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Extended Producer Responsibility: A Responsible Materials Policy 

Packaging Stewardship: A concept by which industry, governments, and consumers assume a greater responsibility for ensuring that the manufacture, use, reuse, recycling, and disposal of packaging has a minimum impact on the environment. This includes prime responsibility by industry to design packaging according to the 3Rs principles, take steps to divert packaging from disposal, actively use recovered materials, and ensure packaging is properly handled if it must be disposed of. Governments have a responsibility to promote packaging stewardship and to encourage the widespread recognition and adoption of the principles as outlined. Consumers have a responsibility to make appropriate packaging choices when purchasing products and, where facilities exist, to divert packaging from disposal.


Eco-labeling/Environmental Labeling: Within a product group, eco-labels are meant to distinguish between products, to identify ones which are deemed environmentally preferable to others. The label is meant to indicate the overall environmental quality of a product, in order to encourage consumers to purchase it. Eco-labeling programs are often government-supported, third party certification programs. They are voluntary since manufacturers have the choice of whether or not to apply for the eco-label.


For example, Environment Canada's "Environmental Choice" Eco-Logo certifies that a product or service is made or offered in a way that improves energy efficiency, reduces hazardous by-products, uses recycled materials or supports product reuse.


Extended Producer Responsibility: A Responsible Materials Policy


EPR programs can be best understood as changing the traditional balance of responsibilities among the manufacturers and distributors of consumer goods, consumers and governments with regard to waste management. Although they take many forms, these programs are all characterized by the continued involvement of producers and/or distributors with commercial goods at the post-consumer stage. EPR extends the traditional environmental responsibilities that producers and distributors have previously been assigned (i.e. worker safety, prevention and treatment of environmental releases from production, financial and legal responsibility for the sound management of production wastes) to include management at the post-consumer stage


There are two key features of EPR policy: (1) the shifting of responsibility (physically and/or economically, fully or partially) upstream to the producer and away from municipalities, and (2) to provide incentives to producers to take environmental considerations into the design of the product

EPR was identified as a principle and strategy for waste minimization at the 1995 Waste Minimization Workshop held in Washington D.C. In this context, the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility would be stated as: Producers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility (physical and/or financial) not only for the environmental impacts of their products downstream from the treatment and/or disposal of the product, but also for their upstream activities inherent in the selection of materials and in the design of products.

With the point of incidence at the post-consumer phase of the productís life cycle, an implicit signal is sent to the producer to alter the design of his products so as to reduce the environmental impact in question. Producers accept responsibility when they design their products to minimize environmental impacts over the productís life cycle and when they accept physical and/or economic responsibility (full or partial) for those impacts that cannot be eliminated by design.

A primary function of EPR is the transfer of the costs and/or physical responsibility of waste management from local government authorities and the general taxpayer to the producer. Environmental costs of treatment and disposal could then be incorporated into the cost of the product. This creates the setting for a market to emerge that truly reflects the environmental impacts of the product, and in which consumers could make their selection accordingly.

There continues to be a debate around the applicability of EPR as an instrument that can explicitly reduce the amount of waste going to final disposal and implicitly drive upstream changes in product design. Part of the EPR debate concerns the concepts of shared responsibility Ė or more explicitly, whether a producer should have primary responsibility under EPR. Sharing responsibilities across the product chain is an inherent part of EPR. While the policy mechanism is called Extended Producer Responsibility, it should be borne in mind that all actors in the product chain and in society must participate in order to optimize its effects.

A properly designed EPR policy can be a driving force for waste avoidance and associated pollution reduction throughout many sectors of the economy. Further benefits could include:

  • reducing the number of landfills and incinerators and their accompanying environmental impacts;
  • reducing the burden on municipalities for the physical and/or financial requirements of waste management;
  • fostering recycling and reuse of products or parts thereof;
  • improving the ease and timeliness of disassembling products for recycling or reuse;
  • reducing or eliminating potentially hazardous chemicals in products;
  • promoting cleaner production and products;
  • promoting more efficient use of natural resources;
  • improving relations between communities and firms;
  • encouraging more efficient and competitive manufacturing;
  • promoting more integrated management of the environment by placing an emphasis on the productís life cycle;
  • improving materials management.

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It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner