This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.
Extended Producer Responsibility refers to the concept that manufacturers have an obligation to take a more active role in the entire life-cycle of their products in order to reduce the burden of recycling and disposal currently borne by local governments and taxpayers. The approaches to EPR may vary, from optimized manufacturing processes that allow a product to be dismantled and recycled more easily thereby reducing the amount of waste and/or toxic materials sent to landfill, to “take back” programs that allow consumers to return an end-of-life product back to the manufacturer for recycling or disposal.
EPR is often achieved through mandates from local and state governments. Besides “take back” programs, strategies may include:
–Additional fees or taxes for producers and consumers of certain products to recover disposal costs;
–”Environmentally preferable purchasing” guidelines for manufacturers that may, among other things, ensure less waste by setting recycled-content requirements for new products; and
–Design requirements that reduce the unnecessary packaging waste, extend the life of products, etc.
One common application of EPR programs and/or mandates is in regard to electronics waste, or “e-waste”.
Product Stewardship is often used as another term for extended producer responsibility, but can also incorporate actions that do not directly target manufacturing practices. Product stewardship may examine the entire structure of production and consumption including all stakeholders: manufacturers, vendors, consumers, and government, with the emphasis on shared responsibility for the end-of-life-cycle of products. Product stewardship, as EPR, may be achieved through any combination of legislation, mandates, incentives, collaborative processes, voluntary action from manufacturers and education and outreach to producers and/or consumers.
What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.