A Product Steward’s Perspective on Extended Producer Responsibility Programs

As described by the OECD, initial Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs provided incentives for producers to make product design changes that would reduce waste management costs through improving product recyclability and reducing material use. Critical to the success of EPR programs is how well the consumer will participate in the program.

Take car tires, for instance. When consumers get their tires changed, they pay a small disposal fee for the used tires. “That tire goes into recycling and is used for some beneficial use. Consumers don't have a problem with that,” explains John Harris, global product stewardship coordinator at Eli Lilly and Company.

On the other hand, an EPR program designed to address the paint industry has been less successful. Consumers pay a surcharge at the point of purchase. “In the majority of cases, consumers use up their paint, so they're paying a fee that goes into a fund that doesn't focus on the actual level of product waste,” says Harris. “What waste paint they may have requires return to select collection locations, which limits consumer engagement. This program imposes costs on the consumer, and minimal waste management actually occurs.”

As EPR programs become more prevalent, Harris advocates for companies to be more involved in their development. “All major products that the public uses could be governed by extended producer responsibility programs to some extent as the years go forward, because that's the next generation of environmental regulation,” he says. “You can be reactive to EPR for compliance objectives, or you can be proactive with product stewardship to be more business competitive.”

Harris will share ideas for how product stewardship can take a greater role in product development and market management during Product Stewardship’s Tipping Point—Transition to Business Value, an education session at Stewardship 2015.

Because they represent all of the stages of the products’ value chain, product stewards are ideally situated to address product issues from development, distribution, marketing and customer support. At the development phase, for instance, they might advise on material selection. On the marketing end, they might look at how products are used by distributors and retailers and address common issues that affect the various business interests. They’re also positioned to work across business groups with the different products produced.

“The key then is how do those different customers relate to that product and the environmental issues associated with it? Can you do things to work with them to more effectively manage or reduce any costs and environmental impacts,” says Harris.

Andrew Brown

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