This article originally appeared in Water Quality Products March 2020 issue as "Sustainable Stewardship"
Businesses view the green movement as an opportunity to stand out. As such, they look to recognize and demonstrate their own best practices in environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility. In the water treatment industry, we have the voluntary Water Quality Association (WQA) Sustainability Certification Program with standards representing achievement in the field of sustainability.
These standards examine the product through its entire life cycle: from raw materials, production, distribution, use-phase and end-of-life disposal. While early steps in the life cycle like production, distribution or sale are typically regulated by governments, including the water treatment industry, more and more industries are seeing regulations implemented focusing on end-of-life disposal. These regulations carry the power of law and are referred to as extended producer responsibilities. With the scope of these regulations expanding, it is important to understand how this may impact your technologies.
What Is EPR?
Extended producer responsibilities (EPR) is a type of policy that charges a producer with the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products. One motivation governments bring up when looking at adopting an EPR or product stewardship scheme is to incentivize material management and environmentally conscious product design on the front end, to increase recycling and reuse, while at the same time decreasing waste. Many countries are also looking at EPR frameworks to share the costs of waste among stakeholders: producers, product consumers, retailers, municipalities, etc. EPR laws are normally specific to a scope of products.
U.S. State & Local EPR Policies
In the U.S., there is no federal framework policy governing EPR or product stewardship. That said, states and local governments still have the right to implement their own policies and laws.
Maine is recognized as the first state to implement EPR framework legislation under LD 1631 in 2010. The adopted framework helps the legislature and state agencies create product stewardship programs to address consumer product waste. The intention is that the physical and financial responsibilities are shifted away from the general taxpayer to the producer and consumer. Currently, Maine has programs set up for electronic waste; batteries, rechargeable and non-rechargeable; mercury auto switches; cell phones; mercury thermostats; mercury-added (fluorescent) lamps; paint; and returnable beverage containers.
Other states, such as Vermont and New York, have adopted product specific EPR laws. For electronic products, 24 states have laws covering disposal under which producers carry financial responsibility or manage collection and recycling.
Adopting a different tactic to sharing the load among stakeholders, California’s policy is an advanced recycling fee model. California consumers pay retailers a $6 to $10 fee when purchasing the product which goes into a statewide recycling fund.
International EPR Policies
WQA is monitoring how other countries are adopting EPR and product stewardship frameworks. In Canada, the Canada Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), made up of the environment ministers from the federal, provincial and territorial governments, has approved a Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility (CAP-EPR). Similar to the U.S., right now there is no federal EPR framework legislation. However, every province, except Alberta, has implemented some level of EPR policies covering a variety of industries; for example, electronic equipment, packaging and printed materials, plastic bags and beverage containers.
In Japan, the federal government enacted EPR laws with a “take back” approach to incentivize producers to develop environmentally conscious product design. Under the Japan Home Appliance Recycling Law (HARL), retailers collect products at their end-of-life stage and producers recycle the collected products. Like in California, the consumer helps with the cost. In this case, the consumer pays the expenses for recycling and transportation. Thus, sharing the burden across stakeholders. Home appliances currently regulated under HARL are air conditioners, television sets (limited to CRT-types), refrigerators, freezers and washing machines.
Over in the European Union (EU), member states must implement EU directives. The EU has issued multiple directives with producer responsibility. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), 2012/19/EU, focuses on the management of electrical and electronic equipment. Starting in August 2018, the directive now has an ‘open scope’, meaning all electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) meeting the definition of EEE falls under the directive. This includes products used by consumers and/or intended for professional use. Some of the programs under WEEE are the collection of used products, reuse centers, product marking, inspection and monitoring. EU member states continue to also have their own regulations. Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom and France, for example, all have national EPR policies.
Continued embracement of EPR and product stewardship frameworks around the world is shifting where the physical and financial burdens of disposal, recycling or reuse have fallen in the past. The EU WEEE directive changing to an open scope also demonstrates how the number of the impacted industries is growing. Looking at how other markets are bearing this charge provides an opportunity to gain insight and knowledge.