One of the most effective strategies to prevent waste in the first place is to craft the design and manufacture of consumer products to minimize waste and environmental impact during every stage of the product's life cycle: production, use, and end-of-life. By placing more responsibility on the entities with the greatest opportunities to minimize environmental impacts, environmental sustainability for consumer products can most effectively and efficiently be achieved.
What exactly is product stewardship and extended producer responsibility?
Principles of Product Stewardship
Product Stewardship (PS) is the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all life cycle stages, while also maximizing economic benefits. The producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law. These Principles of Product Stewardship were developed in 2001 by the founding board members of the Product Stewardship Institute. The Principles support state and local agencies in promoting product stewardship and developing agreements with industry and environmental groups to reduce the health and environmental impacts from consumer products.
Responsibility - The responsibility for reducing product impacts should be shared among industry (designers, manufacturers, and retailers of products or product components), government, and consumers. The greater the ability an entity has to minimize a product's life cycle impacts, the greater is its degree of responsibility, and opportunity, for addressing those impacts. Manufacturers have the greatest ability, and responsibility, to reduce product impacts.
Internalize Costs - All product life cycle costs -- from using resources, to reducing health and environmental impacts throughout the production process, to managing products at the end-of-life -- should be included in the total product cost. The environmental costs of product manufacture, use, and disposal should be minimized, to the greatest extent possible, for local and state governments, and ultimately shifted to the manufacturers and consumers of products. Manufacturers should thus have a direct financial incentive to redesign their products to reduce these costs.
Incentives for Cleaner Products and Sustainable Management Practices - Policies that promote and implement product stewardship principles should create incentives for the manufacturer to design and produce "cleaner" products -- ones made using less energy, materials, and toxics, and which result in less waste (through reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting) and use less energy to operate. These policies should also create incentives for the development of a sustainable and environmentally-sound system to collect, reuse, and recycle products at the end of their lives.
Flexible Management Strategies - Those that are responsible for reducing the health and environmental impacts of products should have flexibility in determining how to most effectively address those impacts. The performance of responsible parties shall be measured by the achievement of goal-oriented results.
Roles and Relationships - In realizing these principles, industry will need to provide leadership. Government will also provide leadership in promoting the practices of product stewardship through procurement, technical assistance, program evaluation, education, market development, agency coordination, and by addressing regulatory barriers, and where necessary, providing regulatory incentives and disincentives. Industry and government shall provide -- and consumers should take full advantage of -- information needed to make responsible environmental purchasing, reuse, recycling, and disposal decisions.
Principles of Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer's responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. The following are the Product Stewardship Institute's EPR Principles include key elements that should be included in all EPR legislation. Although these Principles will be applied differently by different jurisdictions, they are aspirational and considered best practice to achieve maximum results.
Producer Responsibility - Producers are required to design, manage, and finance programs for end-of-life management of their products and packaging as a condition of sale. These programs may or may not use existing collection and processing infrastructure. Programs should cover all products in a given category, including those from companies no longer in business and from companies that cannot be identified.
Level Playing Field - All producers within a particular product category have the same requirements, whether they choose to meet them individually or jointly with other producers.
Results-based - Producers have flexibility to design the product management system to meet the performance goals established by government, with minimum government involvement. Producer-managed systems must follow the resource conservation hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle, and beneficially use, as appropriate. Products must be managed in a manner that is protective of human heath and the environment. Producers design and implement public education programs to ensure achievement of performance goals and standards established by government. All consumers have convenient access to collection opportunities without charge.
Transparency and Accountability - Government is responsible for ensuring a level playing field for all parties in the product value change to maintain a competitive marketplace with open access to all, for setting and enforcing performance goals and standards, for supporting industry programs through procurement, and for helping educate the public. Retailers only sell brands within a covered product category that are made by producers participating in an industry program, and are responsible for providing information to consumers on how to access the programs. Consumers have a responsibility to reduce waste, reuse products, use take-back and other collection programs, and make appropriate purchasing decisions based on available information about product impacts and benefits.