Wednesday, August 1, 2012

EPR is Good Business

By Resa A. Dimino

Resa A. Dimino is a consultant providing sustainable materials management policy and planning services.  She serves on the board of directors of the New York Product Stewardship Council which was created to advocate for EPR in New York. To learn more about the New York Product Stewardship Council visit

Many recycling and waste management stakeholders are embracing the new business opportunities and cost savings created by Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs.  While EPR, also referred to as product stewardship, is a concern for some, it is a boon for local governments, recycling businesses, and the public.  It’s also good in the long run for the companies that take life-cycle responsibility for their products, though some haven’t realized that yet.

Implementing EPR shifts our waste management system from one focused on government funded and ratepayer financed programs to one that develops manufacturer responsibility for managing products at the end of their useful lives.  The intent is to encourage producers to improve design and promote environmental sustainability, increase recycling and reuse, and create green jobs.

Over the past twenty years, local governments and the waste management industry have invested millions to achieve dramatic increases in recycling rates.  Municipalities across the country have accepted the challenge of implementing recycling laws and programs, even when markets were bad or non-existent.  But as the complexity and diversity of the waste stream has grown, that challenge has become more of a burden.  Solid waste managers are problem solvers by nature, but there comes a time when we all realize our limitations.  

Local solid waste managers have gravitated to EPR policy not because they want to give up responsibility – indeed that is a difficult pill for many local waste managers to swallow—but because they realize that government cannot solve this particular set of problems alone.  Local governments have no control over how products are designed and put into the marketplace, yet ultimately they bear the brunt of the end of life handling costs.  At a time when municipal programs are facing budget cuts, staffing losses, and otherwise struggling to make progress, EPR offers the opportunity to solve some very challenging problems. 

Consider mercury-containing thermostats.  Each thermostat contains as much mercury as more than 800 CFL bulbs.    Local waste managers have a desire to keep these materials out of the waste stream, but the cost is significant.  A voluntary industry program has not stemmed the tide of these problematic products – the Thermostat Recycling Corporation’s program diverts only a small fraction of the thermostats discarded annually.

EPR’s economic benefits extend beyond providing relief for local ratepayers and taxpayers.  Recycling entrepreneurs often have the answers to some of our most vexing problems, but there may be costs involved.  Take electronics recycling, for example.  New York had a good core of e-waste recycling businesses when the state’s EPR law went into effect in 2010.  Their business was limited, however, to communities that were willing to, or private entities that were required to, pay for the management of this rapidly expanding waste stream. These e-waste recycling companies have grown dramatically under EPR, creating jobs that are helping our state recover from the recession.  The cost to manufacturers is small compared to the benefit to the environment, to the local ratepayers, and to the state’s economy.  

Effective EPR programs will clearly define the goals and performance objectives for industry, but give companies the flexibility to implement programs most efficiently. When the people who design products factor in end of life management, the products may become cleaner and greener.  

Many companies that have embraced EPR voluntarily have seen huge financial gains.  Take Xerox, for example.  When they began to design for disassembly and view the copiers returned from lessees as a resource, they saved $20 million per year in waste disposal costs.  Putting the right policy drivers in place can make these kinds of savings possible for other industries too.      

For all of these reasons, many producers have embraced EPR.  Both the electronics and paint industries, for example, have worked closely with stakeholders to develop EPR legislation that works for all involved. 

Other industries would be well served to follow their lead and join local governments and advocates to formulate smart and effective EPR programs.  Collaboration will ensure that EPR works for the environment, the economy and the public.  

This blog is revised from an opinion piece originally published in Waste & Recycling News.  See

1 comment:

  1. We are hearing some concerns from those in the zero waste community that EPR is bad for local recyclers. While there are two examples I know of in Canada where the local recycler was not chosen by the producer to get a contract , below is a specific example from New York’s e-waste EPR law and how it helped the existing local recyclers. We also hear arguments from the business community that this is bad for business. Resa’s blog points to a great example where Xerox saved millions designing for disassembly and recycling as a direct result of the voluntary take-back stewardship program.
    Good EPR policy will have strong government oversight where the government sets and enforces clear performance goals – a check and balance system. It has nothing to do with “trusting the producers”. Good EPR policy will also allow producers have the freedom to design and operate the most cost effective system within limits of the waste hierarchy and not over-leveraging others in the product chain. As with any public policy, there are cautions, but it can go right and do a lot of good for the environment and economy (creating jobs) when properly executed.
    The national group Product Management Alliance which appears to have been formed by some business leaders to oppose EPR across the country. They do not want any EPR in the plan to get California to 75% by 2020. I urge recyclers and zero-waster's to support EPR. We will not overcome industry opposition and get producer responsibility policy in the US if we do not stick together - the influence of corporate money on the political campaign system cannot not be underestimated.


Comments are screened before they post. Thank you.