WASHINGTON (April 12, 3:25 p.m. ET) — Underscoring the increased focus on extended producer responsibility in the United States, three leading product stewardship organizations have agreed on definitions of both EPR and product stewardship to help guide further public discussion on the two issues.
“The movement to shift responsibility for spent products and packaging from taxpayers to the producers who design, make and sell them is growing both among leading corporations and state and local governments in the United States,” the groups said in a joint statement April 12.
The three groups are Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute Inc.; Sacramento, Calif.-based California Product Stewardship Council; and the Product Policy Institute of Athens, Ga.
The groups defined EPR as “a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes — at a minimum — the requirement that the producer's responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging.”
In addition, they said that EPR both "shifts financial and management responsibility — with government oversight — upstream to the producer and away from the public sector," and provides “incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.”
The three groups defined product stewardship as “the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all life-cycle stages.”
They added that product stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law, and said that while “the producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, ... other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers and consumers, also play a role” in product stewardship.
The groups also listed the following principles of EPR and provided extensive details about how those programs should work, and the responsibilities of the parties involved:
Producers are required to design, manage and finance programs for end-of-life management of their products and packaging as a condition of sale. These programs may or may not use existing collection and processing infrastructure. Programs should cover all products in a given category, including those from companies no longer in business and from companies that cannot be identified.
Level playing field
All producers within a particular product category have the same requirements, whether they choose to meet them individually or jointly with other producers.
Producers have flexibility to design the product management system to meet the performance goals established by government, with minimum government involvement. Producer-managed systems must follow the resource conservation hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle, and beneficially use, as appropriate. Products must be managed in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment. Producers design and implement public education programs to ensure achievement of performance goals and standards established by government. All consumers have convenient access to collection opportunities without charge.
Transparency and accountability
The government is responsible for ensuring that producer programs are transparent and accountable to the public. Producer programs, including their development and the fate of products managed, provide opportunity for input by all stakeholders.
The groups also defined roles for government, retailers and consumers:
• Government is responsible for ensuring a level playing field for all parties in the product value chain to maintain a competitive marketplace with open access to all, for setting and enforcing performance goals and standards, for supporting industry programs through procurement, and for helping educate the public.
• Retailers only sell brands within a covered product category that are made by producers participating in an industry program, and are responsible for providing information to consumers on how to access the programs.
• Consumers have a responsibility to reduce waste, reuse products, use take-back and other collection programs, and make appropriate purchasing decisions based on available information about product impacts and benefits.
The definitions, said the three groups are “consistent with international definitions [and] reflect the progress that has been made in the past decade since the product stewardship movement took off in the U.S.” They have been endorsed by 48 businesses, stewardship organizations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
The list includes eight state product stewardship councils: the Natural Resources Defense Council; plastic packaging producer Peninsula Packaging Co.; recycled product and recycled plastic fencing manufacturer Close The Loop LLC; and Terracycle, which makes plastic products from waste collected through school brigades, retailers, movie theaters and sports venues.
The list can be found at: http://productstewardship.us/associations/6596/files/Endorsers4-12-12.pdf.