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[greenyes] ENN COMMENTARY: extended producer responsibility

"A new way of thinking is turning the century-old "municipal waste"
mindset on its head."

A radical approach to recycling . just in time for Earth Day.
Posted by the Environmental News Network at
/Bill Sheehan

ENN COMMENTARY: Extended Producer Responsibility

April 21, 2005 - By Bill Sheehan and Helen Spiegelman,
Product Policy Institute

A century ago Europe and North America unknowingly adopted a
policy that gave rise to the modern Throwaway Society. For reasons
that made sense at the time, convenient collection and disposal of
"municipal" refuse became a public service provided by local
communities at taxpayer expense. We all learned to put our refuse out
to the curb and uniformed crews working for the city or its contractors
or its authorized franchisers hauled everything away and "disposed" of
it in locations remote from the sensibilities of politically influential
municipal ratepayers.

There were some big winners. One was the garbage industry, which in
1999 earned $33 billion in the United States alone providing goods
and services to local governments. But the biggest winners have been
corporations that mass-market consumer goods. They make profits
selling short-lived products, many containing chemicals of known and
unknown toxicity - yet bear none of the cost of managing the waste
when the products are discarded by their consumers. Meanwhile local
communities cut back on funding for teachers and police in order to
provide a public service that makes wasting economical for big brand-

A new way of thinking is turning the century-old "municipal waste"
mindset on its head. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) shifts
the burden of product waste management from hapless local
communities back onto the companies that make the products that
become waste. In effect, EPR ends the "welfare for waste" provided
by taxpayers and government programs. Brand-owners, of course,
may pass costs along to consumers. But when true lifecycle costs -
such as the price of waste disposal or pollution clean-up - are
reflected in product prices, consumers of specific products pay more,
rather than all taxpayers or ratepayers. That creates a market incentive
for producers to design better products, or offer services instead.
If you have to pay for managing your products when they are used up,
you have an incentive to make products last longer, recycle easily, and
not contain a lot of toxic chemicals.

EPR is established as European Union policy and has spread to most
industrialized countries except the United States. It is being applied to
products as divers as packaging, automobiles, electrical and electronic
items, batteries, paint and pharmaceuticals. Even Canada has moved
beyond debating whether EPR is good policy to figuring out how to
best implement it.

Can EPR progress in the current pro-business, anti-environment
climate of the U.S.? We think so. Politically, EPR is a fertile synthesis
of approaches from the left and right. From a fiscal conservative
perspective, EPR makes sense because it gets waste management off
the tax base and it is based on the notion that market competition is
more efficient and effective than government-managed programs.
Those of a more liberal bent support EPR because they believe that
producers should have responsibility for pollution prevention. And
take-back legislation is already being passed at the state level for
electronic waste and mercury-containing products.

Change needs to happen from the bottom up. To get to the root cause
of waste, communities need to stop picking up after the producers of
products that become waste and begin demanding that they do so
themselves. Citizens who want to make production and consumption
systems more sustainable can start by asking our local governments to
start phasing out waste management subsidies for products.

The Product Policy Institute is an independent nonprofit research and
communications organization focusing on the link between production
and consumption, on the one hand, and waste generation and
disposal, on the other, in order to promote public policies that
encourage more sustainable practices.

* This ENN Commentary is based on PPI's most recent report,
Unintended Consequences: Municipal Solid Waste Management
and the Throwaway Society, at

Bill Sheehan, Director
Product Policy Institute
P.O. Box 48433
Athens, GA 30604-8433 USA
Tel: 706-613-0710
Email: bill@no.address

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