Extended Producer Responsibility (EPD)...Is it your companies turn to step-up and differentiate yourself?

Posted on 5/1/2012 10:20:49 AM By Jeff Timm

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)...if you haven’t heard of it you soon will.  EPR is a movement long enacted in parts of Canada, Asia and Europe that shifts the responsibility of product and packaging disposal from the user back to the product producer.  Packaging accounts for one-third of all municipal solid waste in the U.S.  We are beginning to see press releases and learn of state and local government enacting EPR programs and laws as part of the end-of-life scenario.  EPR falls under the umbrella of ‘product stewardship’, but what do these terms mean and how does it fit the packaging business? 

Three leading organizations in the product stewardship field recently agreed on a consistent set of definitions. The Product Stewardship Institute, the Product Policy Institute, and the California Product Stewardship Council spent over a year harmonizing concepts and soliciting input from stakeholders from business, government, and public interest organizations across North America. The resulting definitions are consistent with international definitions, but also reflect the progress that has been made in the past decade since the product stewardship movement took off in the U.S. The definitions have been endorsed so far by 47 businesses, stewardship organizations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.

The three-group consortium says the new definitions replace previous definitions used in the United States over the past decade and ask that the marketplace begin to use these official definitions in any future coverage or discussion of these issues:

Product Stewardship

Product Stewardship is the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages. The producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.

Extended Producer Responsibility

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer's responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.

While the drum has begun beating for EPR like almost everything the devil is in the details.  In order for EPR to gain traction much has to occur.  First and foremost the current recycling infrastructure has to be coordinated with product manufacturers, retailers and consumers for any program to succeed.  Manufacturers have to design products for recycling, retailers should be the gate-keepers to assure only safe sustainable packaging is employed and the recycling industry has to cost-effectively accept and develop markets for new materials and different families of current materials, e. g. expanded polystyrene foam (EPS).  Consumers have to be more end-of-life aware when purchasing products and more willing to do what is necessary to activate the end-of-life process.  Selective EPR laws and government regulation will also be a critical catalyst to EPR activity.   

Finally, manufacturers need to be encouraged and allowed to set up their own recycle infrastructure if logistics, economies of scale and markets can be developed more efficiently than going through financially strapped municipal recycling.  Some even believe that this is favorable to burdening municipalities with the recycling infrastructure.  All this multi-stakeholder activity will require vision, leadership and education by all parties at all levels to succeed.

Manufacturing companies have an opportunity under the umbrella of EPR to take a leadership role with their packaging choices.  By being proactive and creating a voluntary company/product EPR program packaging companies can control the agenda rather than having the program become mandatory with potential unfavorable outcomes.  Designing for end-of-life, be it recycling, biodegradation, reuse, composting, anaerobic digestion or whatever, brand owner packaging can begin the process of joining the two systems linear value chain-manufacturing and recovery into an integrated system where the manufacturing side talks to the recovery side.  Additionally, improvements in ones sustainability ‘score’, becoming more transparent-a necessity in our social media environment as well as reducing waste and negative environmental impact is key marketable outcomes.

As a California Integrated Waste Management Board brochure says, “a collaborative approach for business flexibility and streamlined government to reduce reuse, and recycle should be the goal.”

Please share any EPR experiences your company is initiating or involved with currently.



Product Stewardship Institute,

Product Policy Institute,

California Product Stewardship Council,

GreenBlue, January 2012, Closing the Loop: Road Map for Effective Material Value Recovery

Final Report of the Dialogue on Sustainable Financing of Recycling of Packaging at the Municipal Level, Environmental Protection Agency, developed by the Keystone Center, September 2011,

Northwest Product Stewardship Council March 2011, Analyzing Product Stewardship Policies,

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, October 2009, Canada-Wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging

European Organization for Packaging and the Environment, 2011, Packaging and Packaging Waste Statistics in Europe: 1998-2008

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