From: "Monica Wilson" <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 2003 15:08:11 -0700
This is a great article making a case for extended producer responsibility
(EPR) for products, especially automobiles, and shows how important it is
to build networks that include diverse interests and influences in
campaigns to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste.
Globe and Mail
September 24, 2003
Look who's driving the green agenda
By DAVID BOYD
Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - Page A25
Auto workers are not generally thought of as being in the vanguard of
environmental protection. So it's a surprise that the Canadian Auto Workers
union (CAW) is proposing one of Canada's most promising revolutions in
environmental policy in years.
The CAW is calling on Canadian governments to apply a policy called
"extended producer responsibility" to the auto industry. Also known as
take-back legislation, this policy holds manufacturers accountable for the
goods that they produce for the product's entire lifetime. This means that
owners can return vehicles to the manufacturer at the end of their useful
life. Instead of cars winding up in unsightly junkyards, landfills or
incinerators, their manufacturers would be obliged to take
The beauty of this concept is that it provides manufacturers with a powerful
incentive to redesign their products so that they can be disassembled into
parts that are reused, remanufactured, or recycled. Ideally, all vehicle
parts will have some valuable future use, so far less waste will enter
landfills or incinerators, decreasing the burden on municipalities and
taxpayers. As well, hazardous materials such as lead and polyvinyl chloride
could be designed out of the vehicle production process.
Another key benefit of take-back legislation is that it results in the much
more efficient use of energy and resources through recycling and reuse.
Take-back laws generally require that 85 to 95 per cent of the weight of
products be recycled or reused.
By lobbying for take-back legislation, the CAW is merely demonstrating
enlightened self-interest. The CAW envisions a vehicle disassembly plant
beside every assembly plant. Even if car sales decline in an environmentally
friendly future dominated by public transit, cyclists, pedestrians, and
tele-commuting, there would still be jobs for auto workers.
Extended producer-responsibility legislation was first introduced in Germany
in 1991; since then, other nations including Sweden, Switzerland and the
Netherlands have followed suit, with the European Union passing a regional
directive in 2000. The results are impressive. Companies such as Volvo,
Mercedes and BMW have redesigned the vehicles they sell in the European
market in innovative ways, saving money, reducing waste and creating
additional jobs for auto workers. Some countries have extended take-back
laws to cover large home appliances, office equipment, and electrical and
Extended producer responsibility is part of a new way of thinking about how
goods and services should be designed for a sustainable 21st-century
economy. Almost half of New Zealand's local governments have strategies
aimed at eliminating municipal waste by 2015. Toronto has made a similar
pledge. Innovative corporations like Ikea, Xerox, 3M, and Interface Flooring
are also embracing the concept of eliminating waste and pollution.
Ikea wanted to increase sales of its compact fluorescent light bulbs, which
use 80 per cent less energy than conventional bulbs and last eight to 10
times as long. But compact fluorescent bulbs use more mercury than regular
bulbs, and mercury can be environmentally harmful. So Ikea encourages
customers to return used bulbs to its stores. Now 98 to 99 per cent of the
mercury from the used bulbs is recovered for new bulbs.
It is possible to envision a future where all products are made of either
substances that can safely biodegrade (i.e. return to nature, and nourish
the soil) or be endlessly reused in our techno-industrial society. In a
sense, this means redesigning industrial economies to mimic the genius of
the natural world, where millions of years of evolution (or as author Paul
Hawken calls it, "design experience") have resulted in waste-free systems.
Love them or hate them, motor vehicles are with us for the long haul. But,
as the CAW recognizes, we can minimize their destructive impact. Bringing
extended producer-responsibility legislation to the auto industry could lead
to broader application across wide sectors of our economy. Ottawa should
move take-back legislation out of the showroom now -- and onto the road for
a test drive.
David Richard Boyd is an environmental lawyer, professor, and author of
Unnatural Law: Rethinking Canadian Environmental Law and Policy.
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