Taking Out the Trash: A Look at Extended Producer Responsibility

by FLOW policy director Carolan Sonderegger, Giziibii Ogitcheda-ikwe’

Aaniin (Anishinaabemowin for: Hello everyone), eco-warriors, and recycling enthusiasts! Today, we’re diving into the wild world of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – the unsung superhero of waste management and a powerful tool for environmental protection, including protecting our precious waters (niibii)!

In simple terms, EPR is an environmental policy that holds producers responsible for a product’s entire lifecycle, from design to end of life. EPR policies encourage producers to consider environmental factors when designing products and packaging, and to make them more sustainable and recyclable.

Picture this: a group of nervous manufacturers sitting in a circle, sweating profusely as they realize they’re now responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products. From the moment those products are merely tiny plastic nurdles eagerly waiting to be forged into the most wondrous and convenient of plastic products, to the day they’re laid to rest in the great recycling bin in the sky (or more likely, until they end up at the bottom of our lakes, in the bellies of fish (giigoonh), or even in the water that we drink (biish)), these manufacturers are now on the hook like a plasticized prize salmon. Talk about a plot twist!

But wait, it gets better. EPR programs around the world are like tough teachers, giving manufacturers a pop quiz on how to design products that are easier to reuse, recycle, and dispose of safely – without greenwashing. It’s like a game of environmental Tetris, where manufacturers have to figure out how to fit their products into the recycling loop without creating a mess. A cradle-to-cradle concept to replace our cradle-to-grave crisis. Can you imagine the panic in the boardrooms as they try to crack this eco-friendly code?

Let’s not forget the other superheroes of the recycling world – the local governments and taxpayers who have been shouldering the burden of waste management for far too long. With EPR swooping in to shift that financial load back onto the plastics producers, it’s like a classic tale of role reversal. Suddenly, manufacturers are the ones picking up the tab, and the local governments are high-fiving each other as they see their waste management costs plummet. It’s a plot twist worthy of excitement (Shtaataahaa)!!

But through this comedic lens, there’s a serious message here. EPR is a crucial tool for promoting a circular economy and reducing the environmental impact of consumer products. By holding manufacturers accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products, EPR encourages adopting more sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices. Moreover, we are finally going after the source of the pollution instead of shifting the blame to consumers yet again. It’s all about common sense corporate responsibility. So, while we may be poking fun at the quirks of EPR, let’s not forget that it’s a vital part of our journey towards a greener, cleaner planet.

A handful of states in the U.S. already have enacted Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, which require producers to manage the lifecycle of their products, focusing on waste management and recycling. As of now, the states with active or upcoming EPR laws include:

  • California: The state has implemented the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act, which mandates producers to join a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) and meet recycling and source reduction targets for single-use packaging and plastic food service ware by 2032.
  • Colorado: Colorado’s Producer Responsibility Program for Statewide Recycling Act requires producers of single-use packaging and paper products to join a designated PRO by June 1, 2025, and contribute to the recycling infrastructure.
  • Maine: Maine’s law, the Act To Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs, requires producers to pay into a fund based on the amount and recyclability of their packaging. The state plans to have a stewardship organization administer the program by 2026.
  • Oregon: The Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act requires producers of packaging, printing paper, and food service ware to join a PRO and comply with recycling fee structures by July 1, 2025.

Other states, such as Washington, New Jersey, and Connecticut, have also introduced laws focusing on specific aspects of EPR, like recycled content requirements and producer registration systems. Additionally, numerous states, including Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, are considering EPR legislation. These initiatives are part of a broader nationwide effort to reduce waste, improve recycling rates, and shift the responsibility of waste management to producers.

So, there you have it – diving deep into EPR and all the buzz around the US. What do you think about Michigan taking matters into its own hands and crafting EPR legislation to tackle plastic waste at the source? We’d love to hear your take on this!

Wiingezin (take it easy)!


One comment on “Taking Out the Trash: A Look at Extended Producer Responsibility

  1. Jan Rygwelski on

    Excellent step forward! Prior to the 1970s, when single use plastics became ubiquitous, glass manufacturers took responsibility for the fate of their products through multi-use bottles returned for refills, and other measures that supported a circular economy. It’s past time to return the responsibility back to the producers!


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