Key Elements of an EPR Plan
European studies have shown that individual responsibility programs have created stronger feedback loops to product designers. Individual responsibility mandates that producers independently create and finance their own end-of-life programs for specific brand name products verses collectively sharing end-of-life responsibility with other industry counterparts. An industry-funded third party who is responsible for end-of-life management of member groups normally facilitates collective responsibility. As a result, collective systems dilute the feedback loop between recyclers and producers.
To explore how Producer Responsibility for Product Take-back Can Promote Eco-Design download our factsheet here.
Some companies have demanded individual responsibility.
- Joint press statement in support of EPR from major electronic manufacturers, consumer advocates and environmental NGOs
- Electrolux’s ad on the benefits of individual responsibility verses collective responsibility.
Government Mandated Participation
The most effective EPR take-back programs are enforced by government regulations that mandate individual financial and physical take back of the product, but also set incentives for clean product design. To avoid the implementation of regulatory EPR mandates, manufacturers in the United States have started to set up voluntary take back programs that charge an end-of-life fee to consumers. For example, under increasing pressure from regulators to deal with electronic waste, major electronic manufacturers, like Dell, Hewlett Packard, and IBM have set up voluntary programs whereby they charge consumers a $20–30 fee for taking back the product. The return rate for these programs has been very low. In some cases, the end-of-life fee has led to illegal dumping. Voluntary programs are often financed by the consumers, which provides little to no incentive for the producer to redesign their products.
Accountability for Historic and Orphan Waste
EPR programs need to account for orphan and historic waste as well as current end of life product waste. Years ago product designers did not design for re-use or recyclability. However this waste must be dealt with. The responsibility for financing the management of orphan waste equipment can be shared proportionally to each producer’s respective share of the market. This is how historic automobile and electronic waste has been dealt with in Europe.
Recovery, Reuse, and Recycling Requirements
Minimum recovery, reuse, and material recycling targets need to be established. Incentives to achieve full recovery, reuse, and recycling must be built in. Incineration or combustion of end-of-life products should not be considered “recycling.” Incineration transforms materials into hazardous air and water emissions and generates toxic ash which presents an ongoing toxic waste problem.
Environmental Standards for Recycling Facilities
End-of-life facilities should ensure safe, clean recycling processes for workers and nearby communities.
EPR programs need to include material restrictions for highly problematic materials like heavy metals and carcinogenic materials. The precautionary principle should be applied to the decision-making process used to determine materials bans. If a material has inherently harmful properties, and/or there is mounting scientific evidence that a material is harmful, the material should be phased out and safer substitutes found.
Labeling, Consumer Notification, and Free Take Back
For consumers and end-of-life managers, manufacturers must clearly label products with the following information:
- hazardous materials contained in the product;
- requirements not to dispose of the product in landfills, incinerators, or any other means not approved as part of the producers financial responsibility program plan;
- a toll-free phone number and/or website URL where consumers can obtain information and instructions how to deposit their end-of-life product.
It is important that consumers can take back their product free of charge. This ensures high recovery rates.
Landfill and Incinerator Bans
EPR programs should specify a phase out plan for all product waste going to landfills, incinerators, cement kilns, or combustion facilities. This will prove difficult not only for Japan, which incinerates much of its waste, but also for countries with large amounts of landfill space left, such as Canada and Australia. The need to dump or burn materials is a design failure. We need to learn from nature — nature does not create waste; everything is recycled in nature.
EPR programs should prohibit export of end-of-life product waste to other countries. Waste is not a commodity. Currently, much product waste is sent to developing countries under the pretext of recycling. Environmental groups have traced the dumping of electronic waste to Asia where local communities are exposed to ongoing highly hazardous chemicals generated from junked computers (see Basel Action Network, www.ban.org, for more information). Importers of products must bear responsibility for their part of the product chain and original equipment managers must be liable for the final fate of their products.
Defined Government Oversight
A designated government agency needs to be responsible for overseeing the EPR programs to insure that all producers comply with the established requirements. Producers should submit annual performance reports to the government. Penalties should be levied if producers fail to meet the established requirements. Full public access to this information is important.