Extended Producer Responsibility regulations that include plastic packaging place responsibility on producers to collect and recycle specified volumes of plastic that they produce and place into the market.
TARGET USERS: Individuals, Businesses, Industry, Government
KEY CONSIDERATIONS: EPR policy impacts often depend largely on implementation and policing capabilities.
MORE INFORMATION: WWF EPR Project
There is no economic incentive for product manufacturers to reduce their plastic waste stream, given the low cost of plastics production.
Producer Responsibility is commonly defined as shifting the responsibility for end-of-life management of products and materials to producers. There are two main intentions to establish these kinds of systems:
- Reducing the burden of municipalities and placing a shared physical and/or financial responsibility for waste management on producers, and therefore creating a more resourceful and effective scheme increasing the end-of-life collection, environmentally sound treatment of collected products and waste reuse and recycling; and
- Providing incentives for manufacturers to design resource efficient and low impact products.
These systems have been implemented since 1970, but a significant increase in adoption can be seen in the last decade. Nearly 400 different systems, currently adopted in several countries or states, exist around the globe and some schemes have installed an eco-modulation of their fees, meaning that a fee for packaging is related. There are varying approaches, for example, collective vs. individual producer responsibility, the existence of competing Producer Responsibility Organizations (PRO) vs. establishment of only one PRO. Some schemes cover only certain types of packaging and some schemes have installed an eco-modulation of their fees, meaning that a fee for packaging is related to recyclability and other criteria.
The coverage of costs for collection, sorting, and recycling has been identified as one of the major strengths of responsibility systems because they can ease the burden on public budgets, reducing the financial costs of waste management. For example, in Belgium, annually around €134 Million and in Germany around €1 billion are generated from fees out of established systems which are addressing the responsibility for the corporate sector. In addition, producers are encouraged to optimize the cost efficiency for waste management and recycling.
Systems commonly referred to as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) have contributed to the development of efficient separate collection schemes for specific waste streams, including plastic packaging. Investment and operational costs for waste management of used packaging are now covered at least partly by the industry. Potentially, this is a huge advantage for developing countries where the establishment of a proper waste management system is hampered by the inability of governmental or communal institutions to cover the whole cost for waste collection, sorting, and recycling.
However, the introduction of the EPR schemes to other countries has to be done in a very cautious manner. The design of an EPR scheme must be based on the specific waste management context of the country. Only in this way, can it truly serve to promote progress on prevention and reduction of waste leakage in these countries
Several consumer good companies have already made commitments regarding the design of packaging, recycling, and support of packaging waste collection. But these commitments do need structures for collection, sorting, and treatment of packaging waste, which can only be developed on a regional or national level through collective industry and governmental efforts. The informal sector and other regional characteristics need to be considered, imposing systems from foreign countries will have a potential for failure. Only the EPR schemes developed as an inclusive governance model associating all stakeholders can play an important role to help the infrastructure build up.
A rough distinction can be made between mandatory and voluntary EPR schemes. Mandatory systems are based on a legal framework which is defining the group of actors which have to adhere to the EPR requirements given in law or will be penalized if the rules are not obeyed. A voluntary system is based on agreements between some market actors, the government or other stakeholders or established by market actors alone.
Establishment of voluntary systems of the EPR scheme is giving the burden of collection, sorting and recycling to the pioneers, while the rest of the market actors still do not address end-of-life of their packaging. Companies need a level playing field, so the governments have to play an important role to develop a strong legal framework which addresses the structure of collection and recycling systems and setting up the rules for the financing of these activities.
Experiences from European countries shows EPR is an effective policy tool to improve waste management whereas if it is designed without taking all factors into consideration, it is hard for companies to truly take responsibility for the whole value chain. Therefore, apart from establishment of multi-stakeholders, national level working groups to mobilize governments to incorporate EPR into their legal frameworks, and to engage corporates to take the full responsibility of their products and packaging, the facilitation of exchange and sharing of experience and best practice amongst value chain players is also one of the main focuses of WWF EPR program. Neglecting the responsibility for packaging waste and simply trying to address the responsibility for waste management by governments will not bring the issue forward.
Undoubtedly, EPR schemes cannot exist in isolation, and it constitutes a full spectrum of packaging waste management together with many other policy instruments. Each of these critical policy tools complements the other, encouraging a change in the behavior of all actions involved in the product/packaging value chain and eventually reducing plastic waste leakage to the nature.
Extended Producer Responsibility initiatives have been adopted around the world, though implementation has often been a challenge with plastic waste streams. Alternative solutions include financial incentives, both rewards and charges.
The vast majority of EU Member States have introduced EPR for packaging, although the form of implementation varies from one country to the next, ranging from mandatory regulations to voluntary agreements between government and industry to voluntary industry initiatives.
On 23 August 2017, the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment adopted an amendment (Regulation No. 1289/2017) to the Waste Regulation No. 930/2004 in order to introduce mandatory extended producer responsibility for packaging.
It provides that packaging may only be placed on the Norwegian market if it complies with essential requirements in the regulation. These basic requirements relate to the design of the packaging, the re-use of packaging, and requirements for recycling. Packaging must be manufactured in such a way that a certain percentage of the materials used can be recycled for the production of marketable products in accordance with applicable Community standards.
Up to now, producer responsibility for packaging has been implemented on a voluntary basis. However this amendment places regulatory duties on producers of packaging.
Duty to join an approved compliance scheme
Producers who supply the Norwegian market with at least 1,000 kg of a packaging type per year shall finance the collection, sorting, material recycling and other processing of waste packaging through membership of a collection scheme approved by the Norwegian Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with Section 7.14.
Duty to prevent waste
Producers have a duty to work towards the prevention of waste caused by packaging. Further guidelines on this responsibility may be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency at a later date.
Duty to report
The producer, in collaboration with other producers, shall report annually on waste prevention efforts. This includes the extent to which the basic requirements regarding the manufacture of the packaging and its composition (according to Annex I) have been met. Furthermore, the report will state in tonnes the amount of packaging that has decreased compared to the previous year through their waste prevention measures.
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