To understand something new it often helps for us to compare the concept to something we already understand. You’ve probably learned about “Bottle Laws” or at least lifted a can of carbonated beverage to see those state abbreviations next to a cent sign and the triangle recycling symbol. Container reuse and return has been going on for centuries. It was common practice, before mass production of containers was available, for the manufacturer to receive items back, clean them, and reuse them. With a limited number of containers and very few items shipped to far distances, it was easier to control volume and ensure that the containers weren’t creating trash.
What happens when EPR is instituted?
“Under EPR, producers are incentivized and often required to invest in the collection, sorting, and end-market infrastructure to meet their recycling performance standards. These investments help overall system performance, efficiency, and widespread deployment of the best technologies.” While all products produced should have EPR, below are some of the most common categories: packaging (product packaging and shipping packaging), tires, mattresses, electronics, textiles, batteries, and paper.
Why are EPR laws important?
Individuals are doing what they can, but ultimately there is an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to make sure that items companies produce are responsibly disposed or recycled. The world is making strides towards fewer one-time use items, but there will still be items that can’t be reused and require responsible recycling. For instance, one-time use food and consumer product packaging, electronics, mattress, tires, paint, and many other items that require specialized removal and disposal. The EPR laws coming into effect are vital to support sustainably and the health of the environment.
Is there a Federal EPR Law?
As we enter 2023, in the United States, there’s no national law to promote recycling. Meaning that states are left to create laws pertaining to EPR. “…As of October 2022, nearly 20 states — including Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia — had considered similar legislation. The details of the laws and the bills vary widely between states. …the most successful laws cater to a state’s specific needs by considering the industries that will be impacted and the state’s existing recycling infrastructure and economics. …state-based legislation layered with a regional approach could make the recycling process easier on both producers and consumers.”
Who pays for the costs of the EPR? Costs for an EPR
program are typically supported by manufacturer fees, consumer fees, or a hybrid of both. Implementing EPR laws shift responsibility from local municipalities, to support recycling, onto the companies that produce the items. This shift frees municipalities to repurpose funds, previously allocated to recycling, into other emerging local needs. Yes, with companies now incurring these fees, it will most likely result in raised costs across the board, but especially for items that require specialized recycling solutions (ie: electronics, paint, biohazards). Companies will now need to view an EPR as a cost of doing business.
Do I have to handle my EPR in house?
No, you do not. There are many ways in which to implement an EPR. You can begin with revising your packaging and instituting take back programs. If your company is not large enough to create a separate program, you can connect with other local business in your area and pool resources. If available you can support your state-run program (see below for more information), professional groups, manufacturer run groups, non-profit organizations or utilize a vendor specializing in your specific segment of need.
Does my state have an EPR Law?
To get these laws moving forward, many states have adapted and created their own EPR support systems. Certainly, check your local municipality’s website, visit their office, or perform a web search using “extended producer responsibility laws” + [your state]. Additionally, you can view an interactive EPR map offered by the Product Stewardship Institute to see if there is EPR representation in your area. You can search by state or by product (batteries, carpet, electronics, gas cylinders, household hazardous waste, junk mail, lighting, mattresses, medical sharps, mercury auto switches, mercury thermostats, motor oil, paint, packaging, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, phone books, radioactive devices, refrigerant-containing appliances, solar panels, textiles, and tires).
How do I stay aware of updates on EPR Laws?
If you have not already connected with your local entity to get involved in EPR legislation, make sure that you are keeping up to date on what is happening with the legislation and how it can impact your state and your business. A few information outlets to follow are: Waste Dive, Waste 360, Waste Today, Recycling Today, and Science Daily These subject focused media resources share up to date information about the Waste/Recycling Industry and its impacts.
Can I help support EPR legislation?
Yes! Perform a web search for [your state] + “recycling network” to find your local entity. Full disclosure: I am a board member of the Maryland Recycling Network. “Maryland Recycling Network [MRN] is comprised of individuals and organizations from every facet of recycling who join together to promote the 3 “R’s” of recycling. This includes communities, county coordinators, agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses, and recycling activists. We promote sustainable reduction, reuse and recycling (the 3 “R’s”) in Maryland. Our vision is that materials otherwise destined for disposal are reused or recycled and there is a demand for buying products made with recycled material content. MRN advocates on behalf of the Maryland recycling community to ensure that these legislative initiatives achieve their stated goals in a cost- and time-effective manner without creating unintended consequences that hobble our mission to promote a healthy, sustainable environment.” But we can’t stop there! While there are some EPR mandated by law or manufacturer policy, mostly there are not any provisions mandated by law holding the producer responsible until end of product life. “The research examined EPR’s impact on seven paper and packaging recycling programs around the world. The findings showed that across the board, EPR policy drove the collection and recycling of target materials to over 75% in British Columbia, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, and the Netherlands, with Portugal and Quebec at over 60%. Across all materials, U.S. state programs performed far lower,” Yes, you read that correctly, the USA is behind many other countries in EPR polices and action. For instance, there is not much legislation when it comes to the manufacturing & disposal of electrical and electronics (EEE) for EPR in the US. However, in Germany, France, and Sweden EPR laws for EEE are firmly in place, and “if merchants sell an EEE product containing a battery, they may need to register for both EEE and Battery EPR registration numbers.” If we are looking for a place to begin catching up with the rest of the world, a great start would be instituting a requirement that electronics carry with them a requirement to be handed over to certified electronics recycler. Guaranteeing that EEE waste will never end up in the trash, would be a giant step in the right direction for the United States. We must do better. We must push manufacturers to carry the burden of recycling the products they create and sell.
Ethical EPR - Why should my organization strive to go above and beyond the minimum local and national EPR requirement laws?
The phrase you should bring to your organization is Ethical EPR. Waste continues to be a growing problem for our world. To ensure we are working towards a better future, we must allocate the resources to handle the waste we create. The costs of waste reduction are a very large expense. Solutions like the previously mentioned government subsidies or upfront consumer fees included at purchase, can’t fully resolve the problems commerce creates. It is also clear that taxpayers and consumers alone cannot afford to foot the bill for the producer’s responsibility through end of product life. It is an ethical obligation for manufacturers to ensure their product plans don’t end when the item ends up in the hands of the customer, but rather, continue through to responsible recycling, utilizing certified and specialized vendors, so you are clear on the step-by-step plan for your product through the item’s end of life.