One of the most perplexing challenges municipal recycling programs face is what to do with the vast array of products that should be recycled or properly disposed of, but cannot be because the product contains toxic materials or is too expensive or difficult to sustainably manage.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) places primary responsibility on producers for the reuse, buyback, recycling, or disposal of their products at their end of life.

Extended Producer Responsibility (a.k.a Producer Responsibility), an environmental management strategy, is rapidly gaining traction as a blueprint for addressing this dilemma. This strategy is currently legislated in Canada, the EU, parts of Asia, and other countries as well as many states in the U.S.

What is Extended Producer Responsibility?

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a legislated directive that places primary responsibility on producers for the reuse, buyback, recycling, or disposal of their products at their end of life. This strategy shifts the preponderance of responsibility for collecting, transporting, and managing end-of-life products away from local governments and consumers to manufacturers. 

In our present system, the responsibility of the manufacturer ends when the product is sold. When manufacturers face either financial or physical burden of managing their products at end of life, EPR offers them an incentive to make better, more sustainable decisions at the product design stage, including decisions that make it easier for products to be reused or recycled, effectively reducing the product’s end of life cost.

A major challenge manufacturers face in complying with EPR is the complexity and extent of EPR directives and the scope of what is to be required. Passing legislation that enacts EPR is the beginning of a process that involves much detail and planning before actual implementation can occur. It can also be a charged political issue, with manufacturers and their representative trade organizations pushing back against taking financial and material responsibility.

Producer Responsibility Laws in the U.S.

As of this writing, 132 Producer Responsibility laws have been enacted in 33 states across numerous product categories, including packaging, electrical and electronic waste, batteries, beverage containers, motor oil, paint, textiles, carpet, gas cylinders, hazardous household waste, lighting, medical sharps, mercury auto switches, mercury thermometers, tires, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, radioactive devices, and solar panels.

EPR is a targeted strategy aimed at manufacturers that is part of a broader environmental policy called Product Stewardship. Although the two terms are different, they are often used interchangeably, which can create confusion.

What is Product Stewardship? 

Product Stewardship (PS) calls on all those in the product’s life cycle – manufacturers, retailers, local and state governments, consumers, and solid waste collectors – to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of their products. The goal of product stewardship is to create social awareness of and responsibility for the economic, environmental, and public health impact of all the consumer goods we purchase. PS programs are partially funded by state or municipal governments as well as consumers who pay environmental fees.  Examples include all the products collected at Arlington’s Reuse and Recycling Center, curbside pick-up of large household appliances, our redeemable bottle and can program, our hazardous waste collection program, and the recently legislated textile and mattress recycling programs.

How Does Extended Producer Responsibility Work?

Extended Producer Responsibility starts with state-wide legislation that specifies which products are to be managed and creates a financial and organizational structure for managing them. This often requires producers to join a producer responsibility organization (PRO) that is tasked with determining how the products are to be recycled or properly disposed of. Sometimes producers are given the option to act on their own behalf. 

Producers in a PRO pay fees to the PRO. The fees are based on the following:

  • The costs incurred by local municipalities for their recycling activities
  • The cost to fund the PRO’s activities
  • Reimbursement costs to state government for its oversight
  • Funds to support projects that bring innovative technologies and processes to the recycling effort
  • Funds for public education to foster greater compliance with the recycling programs

Though these fees can ultimately be passed on to consumers, producers are now involved in the system and, to keep the cost of their product competitive, they are motivated to make products that are more recyclable, less toxic, and easier to return and/or reuse.

Research completed by the Recycling Partnership, a national organization that is a leading force for improving recycling, found that EPR increases recycling rates without increasing costs to consumers.

What is the Status of Legislation in Massachusetts? 

Zero Waste Arlington’s proposed Producer Responsibility Resolution passed by a wide margin at Arlington’s 2023 spring Town Meeting.  

The Resolution states that “The Town of Arlington urges the Massachusetts State Legislature to enact pending and future Producer Responsibility legislation. These laws will relieve municipalities of this ever-rising cost, and/or give producers the incentive to sell products that are less toxic and easier to reuse and recycle, by requiring such producers to bear the costs for the proper recycling and responsible disposal of their products.”

There are at least seven proposed bills pending in the Massachusetts 2023-24 legislative session addressing Product Stewardship.

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H776 An Act Reducing Packaging Waste in the Commonwealth

This House bill would require large producers of cardboard or rigid plastic packaging as well as printed paper material to develop an individual plan or a plan through PRO that achieves the reduction or recovery of their packaging and paper equal to or greater than 65% by weight by 2027 and equal to or greater than 80% by 2032.

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H779 An Act to Save Recycling Costs in the Commonwealth

This House bill stipulates the creation of a non-profit Packaging Reduction Organization overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection that would collect fees from member producers of any type of packaging. Fees would fund the administration of a Packaging Reduction and Recycling Program which would require producers to make changes in the design of their products to meet the following packaging and recycling requirements: decreased packaging by weight after two years of 10% graduating up to 50% after 10 years, and an increased recycling rate after 5 years of 30% rising to at least 70% after 12 years.

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H833 An Act Establishing the Commission on Extended Producer Responsibility

This bill establishes a “Commission on Extended Producer Responsibility” whose scope is to research, evaluate, and develop recommendations regarding the economic, environmental, and public health benefits and costs of EPR law. It also stipulates formulation of recommendations regarding the establishment of a product stewardship framework that would create a state-wide policy structure for product stewardship across a vast array of products.

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S471 An Act to Reduce Waste and Recycling Costs in the Commonwealth

This Senate bill contains a comprehensive and detailed outline of all proposed bills regarding how EPR legislation would be implemented. The bill has 13 Senate sponsors, an indication of growing support in the legislature. It describes what products would and would not be covered, how the Producer Responsibility Organization would be set up, how fees would be assessed, and what oversight the state government would have, among many other things. Noteworthy is that it also establishes an advisory committee set up by the Department of Environmental Protection that includes a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, retailers, waste haulers, Municipal Recycling Facilities operators, environmental and community organizations, freshwater and marine litter programs, and environmental and human health scientists

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H823 An Act Relative to Paint Recycling

This bill would require manufacturers of architectural paint or their representatives to establish a postconsumer paint stewardship program which would be responsible for the collection, storage, transportation, reuse, recycling, and disposal of architectural paint.

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H881 An Act to Establish a Mattress Recycling Program in the Commonwealth

This bill requires any manufacturer, renovator or retailer of mattresses sold in Massachusetts to register with a stewardship organization with a plan approved by the Department of Environmental Protection. It outlines detailed requirements, roles, and responsibilities for the stewardship organizations, including public education, advertising, and promotion of options for consumers for disposal of discarded mattresses.

Municipalities are feeling the financial impacts of waste management as costs continue to rise significantly. Extended Producer Responsibility laws are a proven solution long overdue in our communities. Zero Waste Arlington will continue to advocate for solutions at the local and state level and we encourage residents to get involved.

  

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