EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY requires producers – not taxpayers or the government – to safely manage their products from the cradle to the grave (or from cradle to cradle). Because it allows product waste to be managed separately from the municipal waste stream, extended producer responsibility (EPR) saves municipal and taxpayer dollars.
More importantly, because it confronts producers with the costs of recycling, EPR can motivate better product design. Producers who have to recycle their own goods will design for ease of disassembly and safe recycling, thereby solving many future waste problems as well as reducing costs.
Europe has recognized EPR as a critical measure in addressing the growing problem of electronic waste, or e-waste. After years of multi stakeholder debate, in February of 2003 the European Union passed the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, legislating EPR for e-waste for the first time.
The European directive has set a template for other e-waste legislation around the world. It ensures that consumers are able to take their e-waste free of charge to a municipal collection point or to a retailer if buying a new electronic good at the same store where the original item was purchased.
Producers are responsible for the costs of picking up waste from the collection points, transporting it to recycling facilities and ensuring that recyclers are properly certified.
For their part, recyclers must ensure that electronic waste is properly handled and that products are carefully dismantled to allow for future reuse or recycling of components. European and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) standards ban the export of hazardous waste, including electronic scrap, to non-OECD countries, such as China, India and the Philippines.
Producers are not permitted to include any visible fees to fund the management of waste from new products (those products put on the market as of August 13, 2005). They must also provide a financial guarantee that their waste will be taken care of in the event of future bankruptcy or merger.
For orphan waste (goods manufactured by companies no longer in existence) and historic waste (goods put on the market before August 2005), the cost of recycling must be divided amongst companies based on their market share when the goods are recycled. For new products, producers have “individual responsibility,” which requires them to pay for recycling their own goods. The programs to do so can be organized collectively or on an individual basis.
E-waste legislation in Canada is currently being developed under provincial jurisdiction, which industry would ideally like to see harmonized. To this end, Electronic Products Stewardship Canada (EPSC) was formed, now boasting 28 leading companies among its membership. EPSC wants to take the lead in developing a national solution to the challenge of electronics waste management. EPSC recycling standards forbid the use of prison labour or the overseas export of e-waste to non-OECD countries. It has also proposed that companies work together to share the cost of recycling old products through a fee on new computers and TVs. The EPSC plan also allows member companies to opt out of this proposed collective arrangement and set up their own take-back services.
To date, only Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have issued e-waste regulations, though Ontario has yet to reveal the details of its program. All other provinces are drafting or consulting on future e-waste legislation. Whatever the result, it is crucial that producers internalize waste management costs to ensure that future design improvements are financially rewarded.
Provincial governments need to set mandatory standards and then let companies set up and run take-back systems. This will provide welcome relief from taxpayer-funded, municipal-run recycling programs. Canadians would do well to contact their provincial legislators to ensure that good EPR legislation, like that in Europe, is passed.
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