EPR Product Stewardship
NWRA is involved in the development of new product stewardship legislation.
Product stewardship laws attempt to make manufacturers and retailers responsible for end-of-life management of their products. To achieve this, they allow the creation of “product stewardship organizations” comprised of a specific product’s manufacturers and retailers. These groups then arrange for the collection of those products for recycling. This kind of organization is a “monopsony”, which means it is the sole buyer of services. As such, it can pay what it wants for those services. In addition, local governments lose their traditional control over recycling in their communities and recycling companies lose their ability to compete in a free market.
Initial product stewardship laws, covering batteries, were adopted in Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont in 1991. It wasn’t until 2004 that a renewed interest in product stewardship emerged with the passage of an electronics recycling law in Maine and a mercury automobile switch law in New Jersey. Today, 32 states have product stewardship laws. Most of these laws cover mercury-containing products such as mercury thermostats, mercury automobile switches, electronic products, fluorescent lights and batteries. Other products covered by product stewardship laws include paint, carpets and mattresses.
Advocates generally cite three core objectives for product stewardship. Their goals are to:
- Internalize post-consumer management costs in a product’s cost.
- Provide incentive for manufacturers to design their products for increased recyclability and reduced use of toxic components.
- Lower solid waste management costs for local governments.
Due to the relatively recent implementation of many of these laws, little data exists concerning their cost or effectiveness. This has not stopped scholarly inquiry, including a 2011 paper written by Chaz Miller for the American Bar Association. The paper sets out to examine the status of product stewardship laws and their ability to meet their stated objectives: "From Birth to Rebirth: Will Product Stewardship Save Resources?"
The National Waste & Recycling Association is pleased to share its recent policy on product stewardship. The Association urges caution in moving forward with new product stewardship legislation. Before placing stewardship requirements on a product, it is necessary to ensure that a given law will provide an overall environmental benefit through a life cycle conducted by the state legislature. Local or state governments should consider the cost and potential effectiveness of a new recycling program compared with the cost and effectiveness of existing programs. Any product stewardship organization established by state law should not be exempt from antitrust provisions and must operate with complete transparency.
The United States boasts an effective and dynamic recycling and solid waste management infrastructure. A product stewardship organization’s members are quite experienced in making and selling products, yet they have little or no experience in recycling those products. If a product stewardship organization does not competitively bid for service providers, or establishes an inflexible take-back program that denies the manufacturer or service provider’s ability to be innovative, consumers will be faced with an unnecessarily expensive program. Product stewardship organizations must honor existing collection or processing contracts or other legal relationships between recyclers and local governments. Finally, the process of selecting service providers must be fully transparent and should follow state and local public procurement requirements.