Extended Producer Responsibility

As a human living in a progressive, west coast city where everyone brings their own bags and mugs and has gardens and chickens in the backyard and rides their bike, I feel like we are already doing as much as we can, and at the same time not remotely enough, to stop pollution and climate change.

I can make more responsible choices, and yet my choices are limited. This week, for example, I attended the wedding of our Green Party candidate, Elizabeth May. Guests carpooled to the event in electric cars and brought potluck food to the reception. Despite all that effort to be environmentally correct, there were plastic bottles of Perrier, a Nestlé product, on every table. I don’t know who brought them, but it was the only water I could find in the venue aside from the bathroom sinks. It felt inescapable. I drank the water because I was thirsty, and tossed the bottle in the bin because that’s what you do. Maybe the bottles will get recycled, maybe not.

I would like Green Party events to be plastic free.

I hope it got recycled at least, but really how would I know?

I would also like to spend less of my limited energy harassing my friends and family to use less plastic, and more on targeting the companies that produce it and take no responsibility for where it ends up.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging is a concept that extends the producer’s responsibility for a product to also include the management of their product’s packaging after the product has been used. It was first pioneered in Europe over 20 years ago.

EPR policies shift the waste management cost or physical collection from local governments to producers.

A EUROPEN analysis of data for 1998-2011 shows that packaging production and packaging waste disposal have been decoupled from economic growth in the EU-15.

Graph showing that while household consumption remained steady or rose slightly, a little less packaging was placed on the market, and significantly less went to landfill, between 2000 and 2011.

This means that despite economic growth of 13% during the measured period, only 7% more packaging was sold, and 49% less packaging went to landfill (for 2000 to 2011) [1]. This shows that EPR is not harmful to the economy.

One of the aims of EPR is to reduce the amount of packaging disposed of as waste. The official record shows that the amount of non-wood packaging sent for final disposal in EU-15 fell by 54.0% between 1998 and 2011, an average annual reduction of 5.8% [2]. This shows that EPR is effective in the goal of reducing packaging waste.

One of the objections to producer repsonsibility is that it will damage our economy, but the EU has shown us that’s a non-problem.

The right to fill the earth with plastic trash is an unaccounted externality – that is, it’s something that companies get for free. It’s valuable, because it saves them money and effort. Anything that’s valuable and free is going to be used and used up. It’s time to attach an accurate price tag to plastic.

[1] p9, EUROPEN Packaging Packaging Waste Statistics 1998-2011

[2] p30, EUROPEN Packaging Packaging Waste Statistics 1998-2011

EUROPEN Packaging Packaging Waste Statistics 1998-2011:
Original souce (download)
PDF for online viewing