Extended Producer Responsibility: Rebuilding a more circular plastic value chain
Updated: Apr 27, 2022
It goes without saying that as socially-conscious consumers, we know we are responsible for reducing and properly disposing of the waste we create. In a similar vein, there is growing consensus that companies who put plastic products on the market should also be accountable for the collection, sorting, and recycling of the products they manufacture.
It is clear that to combat the plastic waste pollution problem, all of us play a part. The current consumer habit of “use and throw” needs to change, while we rally buy-in from policymakers and businesses to be better stewards for plastic waste. The right policies and infrastructure are critical to transforming our currently linear materials usage into a circular one. Extended Producer Responsibility – or EPR for short – is one of the ways policymakers can explore to improve plastic waste management.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
EPR is a waste management policy tool that has been adopted in Canada, Germany, and Japan in different shapes and forms, while currently undergoing consideration in Southeast Asia such as in Singapore, India, and Indonesia. At its core, it moves the financial burden of waste management from governments to the producers of specific products such as plastic packaging. Its purpose is to task the party with the greatest ability to initiate change – whether it be through product or packaging design, better collection rates, reuse and processing systems – with the end-of-life management of their products and also serves as a way to track and measure impact around waste management.
To build momentum and advance the EPR dialogue in the plastics sphere, The Circulate Initiative’s Knowledge Bank, which is a repository for research and resources focused on addressing plastic waste and solutions to advance the circular economy, has compiled a few pieces of research that can inform thinking, promote discussion and encourage action to build out effective EPR policies.
The Statement and Position Paper Extended Producer Responsibility – a necessary part of the solution to packaging waste and pollution commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, makes the case for why EPR is fundamental if we want to make the economics of effective sorting, collection, and recycling of packaged materials viable. Backed by more than 100 leading businesses including PepsiCo, Danone, Walmart, Unilever, and organizations such as the WWF and European Investment Bank amongst others, the report highlights how EPR schemes are the only proven mechanism currently available that delivers dedicated, ongoing and sufficient funding for collecting and processing plastics after its use. It also emphasizes how important the design and implementation of the EPR scheme is to its effectiveness. For example, delineating clear definitions of objectives, the scope of responsibilities, and what ‘packaging’ constitutes, combined with clear roles of stakeholders and a robust reporting and enforcement framework, are critical indicators for its success. The paper recognizes that EPR is core to solving packaging waste and pollution, but it is insufficient on its own and needs to be bolstered by policies and commitment from private and public stakeholders to move the dial.
Collaboration is Key
Considering the complex nature of the plastics value chain in particular after post-consumer use, it is clear that collaboration amongst different players is key. At a national level, to effect change, the first step is for governments to lead the charge. According to the WWF Transparent 2020 report, countries such as the Philippines rank as one of the top 5 countries for mismanaged plastics, and without proper enforcement from the top, change is hard to come by. The “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Scheme Assessment for Plastic Packaging Waste in the Philippines” by the WWF Philippines highlights how a mandatory EPR system would be an effective policy tool to hold manufacturers accountable for the end-of-life impacts of their products. WWF Philippines recommends a tailored EPR scheme for the nation where businesses producing product packaging are required to redesign and eliminate unnecessary plastics within a three-year transition phase. In order for this scheme to work, the report recommends oversight from a non-profit organization that is aligned to monitoring and accountability systems set out by the government.
As EPR starts to gain traction, the sharing of information and insights are also key to driving the conversation forward and in the development of best practices. The EPR Toolbox created by PREVENT Waste Alliance is a collection of knowledge and insights around the world for all things related to EPR and packaging. It serves to foster information exchange and encourage the application of EPR policies globally. The Toolbox contains core training materials that delve into how an EPR scheme can be established, the different types of financing mechanisms, and how the informal sector can be included as we transition towards a more sustainable waste management model.
Collaboration, Action and Integration Required
The select resources above highlight a clear takeaway – that EPR requires collaboration and action between all stakeholders and needs to be integrated into the broader and holistic agenda of governments and corporations in order to effect change at scale. Whether we are producing, purchasing, or using plastic, we are all responsible for its end-of-life fate and need to do our part.
These reports and frameworks in our repository serve as a starting point for those looking to better understand the challenges, opportunities, and implementations of EPR. We are convinced that gathering and sharing knowledge helps drive the conversation and progress forward.
If you have resources related to the topic of plastic pollution, including research on solid waste management, climate, human rights of waste pickers, ocean health, capital markets, and global supply chains, please share these with us through the Knowledge Bank.
We welcome your ideas on how we can partner to fight plastic pollution as a collective.