Greater Producer & Retailer Responsibility

Manufacturers, Retailers, Individuals, National and European Policymakers

Courtesy: Eric Dykstra (Flickr)
Courtesy: Eric Dykstra (Flickr)

In order to reduce the environmental impact of products we need the manufacturers and retailers to take greater responsibility for more of the life-cycle of products they make and sell. There are various approaches that can be taken to encourage greater responsibility amongst manufacturers and retailers. Governments can introducevoluntary measures to encourage responsibility. However, negotiated or mandatory measures are usually more effective. The new French law forcing major retailers to donate edible food to charities, that would otherwise be destroyed, is an example for Ireland to follow.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a strategy that makes the manufacturer of a product responsible for the entire life-cycle of that product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal.

Many countries have adopted waste management policies in which manufacturers are responsible for taking back their products from end users at the end of the products’ useful life, or partially financing a collection and recycling infrastructure.

WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) is probably the best known take-back programme. WEEE is a European Union-wide program where old and broken electronic products such as fridges, washing machines, remote controls, batteries, electric toothbrushes, electrical tools, and toys are taken back for free for recycling. Many of the electronic products covered by WEEE contain hazardous content, and if not properly managed, can cause major environmental and health problems. Moreover, the production of modern electronics requires the use of scarce and expensive resources (e.g. around 10% of total gold worldwide is used for their production). WEEE has been very successful with 7.5kg of this type of waste collected per person in Ireland in 2012.

ARN is another good example of a successful producer responsibility program. ARN was established by the Dutch automobile industry, collects all scrap cars and oversees their dismantling and recycling, without cost to the last owner. Financing for this system is achieved through a waste disposal fee payable as part of vehicle registration (currently €45). ARN manages vehicle collection and recycling activities by entering into contracts with car dismantling companies. Under the scheme, at least 95% of an end-of-life car is recycled or recovered.

Greater producer responsibility for waste management encourages companies, who have the greatest control over product design and marketing, to design their products to be greener. Their products can then be better made for easier reuse, recyclability, using fewer quantities of material and less toxic materials. These measures can also give correcting market signals to the consumer by incorporating waste management costs into the product’s price. All of this helps promote innovation in recycling technology.

Extended producer responsibility is also often cited as one way to fight planned obsolescence, because it financially encourages manufacturers to design for recycling and make products last longer.
WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive
ARN (formerly Auto Recycling Nederland), The Netherlands