It's the Environment, Stupid.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Extended Producer Responsibility

Maybe because it's the holiday season but I've had several conversations with people lately revolving arund the purchase of new items: computers, printers, cell phones, blackberries, televisions, DVD players, I-pods, furniture, automobiles, clothing. The reason behind these puchases is often because their previous goods are either too old (there's a newer, cooler one on the market), or have broken (and no one fixes things anymore).

As consumers we are stuck in a quandary - technology outdates itself immediately, so even if a product still works, there's a newer, faster, better thing that was just released. Or companies make things with a short usable lifespan, forcing you to purchase new items repeatedly. So in our current affluent western society, the choice to buy isn't really a choice at all, it is a given. In our disposable, consumer oriented culture the assumption is you will buy and you will throw away.

I've blogged about this consumer burden before, and how I believe that the responsibility for a product's afterlife should shift to the producer. Companies should design with the product life-cycle in mind (Cradle to Cradle of course), however until that practice happens on a mentionable scale, more companies should institute additional take back programs.

Steve Attinger has a column on GreenBiz.com that talks about Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). He highlights a few manufacturers that do take back their older/broken products (and competitor's products) once the consumer is ready to purchase a new one. He also makes the business case for EPR, one result is building customer loyalty, another is streamlining the production process, which often saves the company money. EPR just seems to make business sense, and until everyone is doing it will give added value to the consumer and a leg up on the competition.

3 Comments:

  • Europe and even Asia is way ahead of us on this. They have legislation that requires manufacturers of electronics like televisions and computers to carry the burden of responsibility for their life after use. I would love to see a program here that would allow people to return their products to the manufacturer for recycling/reuse.

    By Blogger melissa, at 11:25  

  • You use "EPR" and "take-back" interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, when in reality take-back of end-of-life (EOL) products is only one form of EPR. Many people do not distinguish between the two, but if you read the OECD's literature on EPR, you'll see a wide variety of EPR regimes beyond take-back.

    Let me illustrate using a few examples from my area of focus, Latin America & the Caribbean (LAC). Brazil, for example, has national EPR regimes for EOL batteries, tires, motor oil/lubricants and pesticide packaging, and is contemplating ones for such things as fluorescent lamps. None of them, strictly speaking, feature take-back in the sense you seem to put it.

    Under the current national regime for batteries (now under revision), for example, manufacturers or their representatives in Brazil must set up a system of drop-off places for EOL batteries containing certain levels of lead, cadmium or mercury, and some sort of collection and proper disposal/recycling regime, but not every vendor of batteries need accept EOL batteries when selling new ones. However, some state and local regimes (there are dozens) do require that all vendors accept them and/or provide a container for them on sales premises. Not, strictly speaking, manufacturers directly taking back their EOL products, but certainly an EPR regime.

    The Brazilian tire scheme is also EPR but not take-back. Manufacturers or importers of new tires must prove that they have provided an "environmentally adequate" recovery of "x" number of scrap tires (the amount has risen year-to-year) in order to gain permission to sell new ones.

    Brazil is not alone in this. Argentina is considering EPR bills for electronics/electrical equipment (WEEE), and Chile and Colombia are looking at adopting schemes. Uruguay has a packaging waste law already in place, while Argentina and Mexico are considering such bills. Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru have indicated interest in EPR regimes for used oil, tires, plastic bottles, cell phone batteries, fluorescent lamps and other "hard to dispose" or "slow to decompose" wastes. Mexico's federal waste law, and that of several states and the Federal District (DF), require producers of products that become "special" or "problem" waste at EOL (lists vary, but usually include batteries, tires, lamps and WEEE) prepare "waste management plans" to submit to environment authorities. Such plans must contemplate producer-supported regimes to ensure proper collection and recycling or disposal -- a sort of "back door EPR."

    Regards,
    Keith

    By Anonymous Keith R, at 01:00  

  • Keith - yes I errantly did use the two interchangably - oops, even though I do know better. Thanks for pointing that out and for your detailed comment.

    By Blogger Amy Stodghill, at 09:18  

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