As Extended Producer Responsibility Laws Evolve, Questions Arise

April 21, 2011
from the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government

Jennifer Nash, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government (M-RCBG) associate director and executive director of the Regulatory Policy Program, spoke on the topic of extended producer responsibility (EPR) in the United States during a seminar Wednesday (April 20).

EPR is a policy approach that requires manufacturers to take responsibility for establishing and paying for programs to collect and recycle the products they make after consumers discard them. In the United States, 32 states have enacted EPR mandates for at least one product. Consumer electronics are a common focus, but EPR systems are also in place for rechargeable batteries, paint, fluorescent light bulbs, thermostats and pesticide containers.

“Historically, in the United States, organizing and financing household hazardous waste management has been the job of local governments,” said Nash. “Today, local governments do not have the funds to cover those costs, and existing HHW programs capture only a small percentage of what is available for collection.”

The U.S. collection rate for consumer electronics in 2010 was 19 percent, according to the EPA, and it was even lower for other products such as batteries.

Today, more than 60 EPR laws have been enacted at the state level, with California and Maine leading the charge in product categories covered by their laws. Nash reported on the implementation of Oregon’s EPR law for leftover paint, enacted in 2009, whereby manufacturers have added 75 cents to the cost of each gallon of paint sold in Oregon to finance the collection and recycling program. The collection rate in Oregon currently stands at about 50 percent.

Nash said as EPR programs rapidly gain “teeth” at the local level, states can become laboratories for evaluating different approaches to determine what strategies result in higher collection rates and even product redesign incentives.

“There is a lot of legislative activity going on right now…and these laws are becoming more comprehensive and prescriptive,” said Nash.

“The idea is that manufacturers should be responsible for what they produce from cradle to grave, and EPR looks specifically at end-of-life. When products aren’t collected and recycled, toxic substances end up going into landfills and incinerators, where they may leach into ground water and go into the air. The natural resources that went into making those products are lost.”

Jennifer Nash

Jennifer Nash, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government (M-RCBG) associate director and executive director of the Regulatory Policy Program.

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