Sunday, April 11, 2010

Consumers Are Not the Same as Taxpayers or Ratepayers

By Heidi Sanborn

I made a presentation to the California Manufacturers and Technology Association on April 8th. I was asked these questions: Why do producer responsibility proponents oppose having taxpayers/ratepayers pay for product waste? Aren’t they the same as consumers?

This was my answer:

A consumer buys something – they make a choice to buy a product based on prices and many other variables. Their choices provide economic feedback to the product designer and manufacturer. A taxpayer/ratepayer is a person paying taxes or garbage rates. They make no direct connection between the product disposal cost and the tax/rate. Additionally, rates and taxes are not economically connected to producers to close the economic feedback” loop that will drive green design.

The problem with externalizing End of Life (EOL) costs onto the taxpayer/ratepayer is that there is literally no consumer understanding of the full product costs so they cannot make a fully informed decision when purchasing a product. When EOL externalities are internalized into the product price, the consumer can make a fully informed consumer choice. This provides for personal responsibility – a 1:1 decision to cost implication versus an everyone-pays-for-everything socialism model that we have now.

If we want the free market to work, stop growing government, create private sector jobs, and allow the private sector to compete to drive recycling costs down, we can begin the transition away from externalizing product EOL costs onto the public sector.

I urge all of your members to watch the short video on the home page of the California Product Stewardship Council at It shows economist and Ventura County supervisor, Steve Bunnett, talking about this very issue.

Product stewardship moves us away from socialized product waste management to private sector free-market waste management. Product stewardship, when implemented properly, is the most conservative policy there is in waste management. It will ensure smaller government, properly operating free-market, and lower taxes/rates. Consumers who buy the biggest TV can pay for its EOL costs, not spread those costs across all their neighbors. The free-market can then work to drive down EOL management costs without command and control regulations.

Heidi Sanborn
Outreach Director, Product Policy Institute
Executive Director, California Product Stewardship Council


  1. I agree with you Heidi. However, one should remember that there is a fine line between intentions and how policies work in real life. I address this matter in my article "Discussing the Framework of Take-Back Laws". Feel free to read it at

  2. In response to Heino's comment directing us to his summary of the findings of Toffel et al., I see the "fine line" as not a barrier but a starting line. Nothing in Toffel's work challenges the important principle presented in Heidi's post: that we have been wrong all these years expecting local governments to provide recycling and disposal solutions to a growing mass of throw-away products and packaging. The challenge that lies ahead will be to make sure we hold producers to provide remedies that truly serve the public good. One additional dogma that must be challenged is the notion that "free trade" is ultimately in the public interest.


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