Wednesday, December 26, 2012

British Columbia's New EPR Handbook for Consumers

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director

I just received the new updated British Columbia’s Recycling Handbook.  It provides a fascinating glimpse, for Americans, of how discarded products will be managed when those who design, market and use products and associated packaging – producers and consumers – are responsible for managing them at end of life.  It's called extended producer responsibility, or  EPR for short.

The booklet is for consumers.  As the subtitle states, this is A Simple Guide to What Can Be Recycled Under BC's Stewardship Programs.  Industry stewardship agencies, also known as producer responsibility organizations (PROs), are organizations established by manufacturers, distributers or brand owners to discharge their responsibility for ensuring that their products are recycled when customers are done with them.  In British Columbia, such programs are "100% industry funded," meaning that program costs are internalized in the price of the product, at no cost to taxpayers or local government.

British Columbia has more stewardship agencies covering more product categories than any other jurisdiction in North America.

The first edition of the Recycling Handbook, issued two years ago, was 20 pages and covered the 8 stewardship agencies operating at the time.  The new edition is 28 pages and includes 17 stewardship agencies (see list at end). 

Some of the new product categories that have been added since the last version of the Handbook include toys, small appliances and power tools, a vast array of electronics, outdoor power equipment, lighting products, and alkaline batteries. (A stewardship program for residential packaging and printed paper is under development.)

One thing that is striking about the Handbook is the diversity of return channels available for different products.  A chart lists, for each product type, whether it can be taken to depots, retailers, collection events, regional drop-off sites or put in curbside bins.  Each of these return avenues creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and jobs, since stewards pay to have their products collected and sorted.

A nice touch for a consumer guide is a graphic showing what kinds of new things each of 15 product categories are made into.

The Handbook is published by the Stewardship Agencies of British Columbia.  You can find it, and an informative video, Evolution of Industry led Product Stewardship Model in British Columbia, on their website at

Here’s a list of industry stewardship agencies operating in B.C., from the Recycling Council of British Columbia website (see also this summary table of programs):

The Handbook portrays a commonsense world in which the costs of managing products at end of life are included in product prices and not off-loaded onto government, taxpayers or general garbage ratepayers.  While EPR programs in British Columbia have their warts, they give those of us in other jurisdictions a lot to learn from as we develop more rational materials management systems.


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