It’s odd that a city as “green” as Boston has such a low recycling rate. The Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution report states that Bostonians recycle approximately one-seventh of the trash they produce, but that more than one-half of their trash could be recycled. Perhaps we should advocate for extended producer responsibility (EPR) or product stewardship laws as a higher order strategy to divert more trash from landfills. EPR laws shift some responsibility for recycling, disposal, and reuse of consumer products from the government to product manufacturers. A major objective of these laws is to motivate manufacturers to develop products that can be recycled and disposed of at a lower monetary and environmental cost.
The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), a national advocacy organization for the product stewardship movement, calls Boston home. The institute was founded in 2000 by Scott Cassell, a former Director of Waste Policy and Planning for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. PSI’s core principles of product stewardship include: sharing responsibility for product impacts among producers, consumers, and governments; internalizing products’ entire costs; creating incentives for manufactures to develop cleaner products; allowing responsible parties flexibility to efficiently address their products’ impacts; and defining clear roles for consumers, industry and governments to support product stewardship.
The Product Stewardship Institute promotes legislation, undertakes research, and educates the public on product stewardship. For example, last year, California enacted AB 1343, a bill that will create a paint product stewardship program requiring left over consumer paint to be managed by manufacturers. AB 1343 mirrors a 2008 Oregon bill that was created with the help of PSI, which worked to convene paint manufactures, retailers, recyclers, and government officials to develop the bill together. PSI is also a source for product stewardship publications and has submitted comments and testimony on various product stewardship bills.
Several countries have adopted national product stewardship laws. Canada’s 2009 Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility created national standards and goals for product stewardship. The first phase of the action plan requires provinces to develop EPR management programs for several products by 2015, including packaging, e-waste, and hazardous household waste. Phase 2 requires EPR management programs to be in place by 2017 for construction materials, demolition materials, furniture, textiles and carpet, and appliances.
The EU product stewardship legislation is modeled after national laws in Germany, Belgium, France, and Austria. It covers product packaging, end-of-life vehicles, e-waste, and batteries.
Although the U.S. does not have national EPR laws, over 30 states, including Massachusetts, have legislation which mandates that the end-of-life of certain products is handled by producers and businesses (see map below). Massachusetts has a single extended producer responsibility law that restricts the sale of mercury-added products and mandates that auto manufactures institute a collection program for mercury-added auto switches.
In 2010, Maine became a national leader with its Product Stewardship Bill. Before this bill, Maine had extended producer responsibility laws for mercury-containing auto switches, e-waste, certain batteries, and mercury bulbs and thermostats. This new bill calls on Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to review existing product stewardship programs for improvements and recommend new product stewardship programs to the state legislature. Last month, the DEP submitted its first report to the legislature and recommended that product stewardship programs be developed for paint, unused pharmaceuticals, and used medical sharps. As states increasingly create their own product stewardship laws, the importance and value in creating national laws will grow.