EPR: Game-changing, or just taxing?
As consumer demands for CSR increase and the cost of resources skyrockets, manufacturers need to consider the lifecycle and recyclability of their products more and more. Manufacturers that aren’t looking at the end-life of products may soon have their hands forced as extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws are quickly becoming a reality.
Here at TerraCycle, we work with major brands to recycle many types of non-recyclable products, containers, films and other types of packaging. Lately we’ve been focusing much of our attention on one specific (and very common)- waste stream: chip bags.
This summer TerraCycle is piloting its “Chip in for Change” program in Hamilton, NJ. Our goal is to collect a minimum of 10 percent of all chip bags consumed in Hamilton, but our hopes are to get closer to 30 percent of all chip bags consumed in the township. If successful, the program will spread state and nationwide.
Why 30 percent? Estimates show that 25 percent to 30 percent of PET and HDPE bottles, the most commonly recycled plastic, are recycled in the US. That is after 40 years of municipal recycling. Our goal is to see if TerraCycle’s incentivized return system can match municipal recycling rates.
We chose chip bags as our target waste stream because of the immense amount of chip consumption in the U.S. TerraCycle currently collects .5 percent of the 17 billion chip bags produced per year nationwide. Raising that only to 10 percent would massively reduce the amount of chip waste clogging landfills; reaching 30 percent would certainly be “game changing.”
TerraCycle choose Hamilton Township, NJ, winner of ICLEI’s Sustainability Leadership Community Outreach Award, because of its proven dedication to the environment.
As Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo said, the township is a community that “knows the importance of sustainability efforts and how they contribute to the Hamilton Township our future residents will inherit from us.”
With Hamilton setting a prime example, consumers are increasingly demanding the recyclability and eco-friendliness of product waste.
The amount of waste produced per person per day has stayed roughly the same since 1990 (about 4.5 lbs). However, the amount of waste recycled or composted per person per day has increased from 0.73 lbs to 1.51 lbs, showing an increased interest in keeping waste out of landfills. (Source: EPA, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2010 Data Tables and Figures. Epa.gov.)
In addition, corporations are more willing than ever to finance the recycling of previously non-recyclable waste. TerraCycle’s business plan is proof.
Take Mars for example: For all brands of candy wrappers sent to TerraCycle, Mars pays the shipping and makes a 0.2-cent donation per wrapper to charity. In return, Mars gains a sense of social capital and consumer admiration. Manufacturers, too, should feel responsible for their product waste.
With more EPR laws imminent, the choice may soon no longer be yours. In 2006, only 15 states had passed any type of EPR legislation. Today, 32 states have between one and six EPR laws, and that number is only increasing. (Source: Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. 2012. Productstewardship.us.)
Current EPR laws require manufacturers to finance the recycling of products such as electronics, paint, and carpet, and the safe disposal of products such as batteries, thermostats, and automobile switches.
No EPR laws in the U.S. yet govern the recyclability of containers and packaging. Europe, Brasil and parts of Canada have adopted these types of laws, however, and the U.S. should follow suit. With this being the largest category of municipal solid waste in the U.S., it makes sense that laws of this nature should be on the horizon.
Containers and packaging (steel, aluminum, glass, paper and paperboard, plastics, and wood products) comprise a massive 30.3 percent or 75.64 million tons of landfill waste in the U.S. (Source: EPA, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2010 Data Tables and Figures. Epa.gov.)
Just imagine the impact if even a small portion of manufacturers took responsibility for the full lifespan of their products waste. Millions of tons of waste could be diverted from landfills each year!
It is time for manufacturers to consider the future of the environment and relate it back to their own products. Take a cue from consumers eager to recycle, like those in Hamilton, corporations willing to finance recycling, like TerraCycle’s brand partners, and international EPR programs already established.
Your future is in recycling - unless you’d prefer a ‘per unit’ tax on your products.