What is EPR and Why is it Important?

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) describes the comprehensive obligation that Canadian businesses have to reduce the environmental impact of their products and packaging.  Under the EPR model of cradle-to-grave product management, a producer’s responsibility spans the entire product management lifecycle, because that responsibility is extended to the post-consumer phase. This obligation encompasses waste reduction, recovery, recycling and reuse, and in many cases businesses are solely and fully responsible for designing, operating and financing the associated diversion program.  EPR requires total producer responsibility, physical and financial, for products and packaging supplied into the marketplace. It shifts responsibility upstream, away from municipalities and regional waste authorities to the companies that put the products (along with their packaging and marketing material) into the marketplace.

Closed loop materials management

Designed to divert and reduce waste, EPR closes the loop on materials management, recovering product waste when the consumer discards it and reusing it as a raw material to produce a new product or packaging material. This approach consumes considerably less energy than it takes to manufacture from scratch, and encourages industry producers to become more innovative about product and packaging design. It’s a radical departure from traditional linear thinking, and is based on the concept that manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and consumers all share in end-of-life product management.

Linear Waste Management

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Closed Resource Recovery Loop

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An environmental risk management tool

A 2010 Statistics Canada report shows that we Canadians each produce over 1,000 kilograms of waste per year. And, while over 8 million tonnes of our waste is diverted or processed through material recovery facilities or centralized composting operations, 26 million tonnes still ends up in landfill or incinerators. According to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), Canada’s performance lags behind other G8 and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries when it comes to municipal solid waste (MSW) diversion and disposal. The Canada-wide Action Plan (CAP) for EPR aims to redress this imbalance, and accelerate Canadian performance by developing and implementing effective EPR programs.

The action plan provides guidance on how to strengthen the use of EPR as an environmental risk-management tool, and promotes the harmonization and consistency of programs across the country. It encourages producers to adopt full life-cycle cost accounting for their products. According to the CCME, this would see the costs of the end-of-life management of products treated similarly to other production factors and incorporated into wholesale and retail product prices. Successful EPR shifts the expenses associated with product end-of-life management from taxpayers to producers and consumers and reduces the amount of waste generation and disposal. In addition, the Action Plan seeks to reduce the toxicity and environmental risks from products and product waste and to improve the overall life-cycle performance of products, including reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Case Studies

The origins of EPR

It all started with Thomas Lindhqvist in 1990 at Sweden’s Lund University, when he introduced the EPR concept in a report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. Lindhqvist explains that the concept was based on analysis of a number of Swedish and foreign recycling and waste management schemes. The EPR concept was introduced at a time when several European countries were preparing and starting to implement various policy instruments to improve the management of end-of-life products. Little did he know at the time that his work would lead to almost all OECD countries formulating EPR policies.

Just a year later, Europe had its first instance of EPR in operation, with the introduction of the German Packaging Protocol that requires manufacturers to take care of the recycling or disposal of any packaging material they sell. As a result of this law, German industry set up a “dual system” for waste collection, picking up household packaging alongside municipal waste collections. This German EPR program is operated by the Duales System Deutschland GmbH, which collects license fees from producers in exchange for collection services and the right to add the European Grune Punkt (Green Dot) recycling logo to their product labeling.

In Canada, our first EPR programs focused around beverage containers, with the British Columbia beverage container recovery system enacted in 1970 – the oldest legislated deposit-return system in North America. This was followed by Alberta’s  beverage container recycling regulations in 1972.  In 1997, Ottawa kicked-off a series of international multi-stakeholder OECD workshops on EPR and talk started to shift from shared responsibility to producer responsibility. In 2013, there are over 80 EPR programs operating throughout the country, most of which are separately regulated by provincial governments. Canada’s commitment to 100% EPR was formalized in the CCME’s Canada-Wide Action Plan for EPR in October of 2009.