Producer Responsibility: A Legislative Model

What is Producer Responsibility?

Simply put, producer responsibility is the concept that a manufacturer's responsibility for a product extends beyond the time of sale. This view incorporates a "cradle-to-the-grave" conception of products, and relieves the costs of cleanup and dangerous materials from consumers and local governments. Someone has to bear the costs of the disposal of a product: by incorporating what would otherwise be the external cost of disposal into product manufacture manufacturers will design products that are safer and cheaper to dispose of.

Product packaging is often perceived as "free" to consumers. When one buys a soda, one tends to naturally focus on the product consumed (the liquid) as opposed to its packaging (the container). Consumers often do not perceive that they are actually paying for the packaging as well. Governments fund waste hauling and litter clean-up through taxpayer money. Rarely must producers examine this cost to society.

Producer Responsibility for Recycling in action:

  • The Paint Stewardship Act of 2010, CAW-sponsored AB 1343 by Assembly Member Huffman, will require manufacturers to operate and finance a recycling program for used paint. 
  • The Carpet Stewardship Act of 2010, AB 2398 by Speaker John Perez, establishes the nation's first comprehensive and industry-financed carpet recycling program.
  • Mercury Thermostats Collection Act of 2008 (AB 2347, Ruskin) requires manufacturers of mercury-added thermostats sold in California before January 1, 2006, to establish and maintain a collection, transportation, recycling,  and disposal program for out-of-service mercury-added  thermostats.
  • California's Bottle Bill (AB 2020) predates Germany's DSD and differs from other states because the deposit-refund system overlaps an advance-disposal fee. Beverage manufacturers pay a "processing fee" , which is the difference between a container's scrap value and the cost to recycle that container. Thus, it is in manufacturer's best interests to design containers that are not costly to recycle!
  • As of 2003, the Duales System Deutschland (DSD) of Germany not only met but exceeded every one of its recovery collection categories. Some categories exceed 100% collection (due to materials collected by producers not in the program); the highest collection rate is paper cardboard, at 161%. The system has successfully led to documented source reduction, waste reduction, and packaging reductions.
  • The EU Packaging Waste Directive was instituted in 1994. It was recently reported that seven countries have already achieved the 60% recovery target for 2008, while almost all have met the current 50% recovery target.

Where is Producer Responsiblity Headed Today?

Producer Responsiblity leaves producers room to innovate, and new forms of Producer Responsibility continue to evolve. Shifts in consumerism such as leasing products (like carpeting), or advocating selling services as opposed to selling disposable products have been suggested, though it is difficult to tell if governments will incorporate such policies. Currently, Producer Responsibility is enjoying renewed attention as a potential solution to e-waste concerns with the adoption of myriad e-waste Producer Responsibility polices, though the issue of packaging still has to be addressed.

It is important to note that Producer Responsibility does not work with all products. Some products or materials may be immediately threatening to a municipality, and in such cases bans or fees may be more viable than the drawn out political negotiations associated with implementing Producer Responsibility recycling solutions. Also, while consumer behavior programs should not be ignored, neither should they be advocated in lieu of exploring Producer Responsibility options. Financial investments in Producer Responsibility may prove more productive and easier to coordinate than larger, consumer-oriented behavioral programs. Extended Producer Responsibility is a vehicle that makes businesses take stock of the world as it evolves, to integrate flexible and aware design schemes, preparing for approaching trends in global politics, the global market, and the natural world. It can produce source reduction, encourage waste diversion, and result in less material for consumers to handle and dispose of.

Additional Resources:

  • Read an article on Producer Responsibility.

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