EPR programs are enacted by governments and put a legal obligation on producers to adhere to laws concerning the lifecycle management of their products and packaging, including the achievement of performance targets. Producers can choose whether to meet the required obligations themselves or pay to outsource the management to a third-party organization, such as a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO).
Although there are fundamental principles and elements that generally apply in all EPR programs, they must also adapt to local conditions - such as existing recycling infrastructure, business climate, and political landscape - to be successful.
EPR is industry funded: Producers cover the costs for the lifecycle management of their products and packaging, including collection, sorting, and recycling. Producers create the products and packaging put on the market and therefore are the stakeholder who is best suited to implement positive changes at the end of the product lifecycle.
This represents a shift away from traditional waste management approaches, where the responsibility for funding rests with municipalities and residents (commonly through taxes or direct subscription fees). To ensure compliance, an EPR law usually stipulates producers will incur a financial penalty if they do not fulfill their EPR obligations, such as meeting performance targets for recycling.
An example of EPR is a deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers. A DRS works by placing a monetary value on waste. The consumer pays a small, but meaningful deposit when they buy a canned or bottled beverage, which is then refunded in full when the consumer returns the empty container, for example through a reverse vending machine (RVM) at their local retailer. After the empty bottle is returned through the RVM, it can be sorted and then recycled into a new container, over and over again.
Extended Producer Responsibility for Printed Packaging and Paper (EPR-PPP) is another example of this. Producers cover the costs of collecting and recycling printed paper and packaging through drop-off and curbside recycling operations. The program is funded by producers, and consumers are not charged a fee.
As announced in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s 2021 Statement and Position Paper – Extended Producer Responsibility - a necessary part of the solution to packaging waste and pollution, TOMRA along with more than 150 businesses and key stakeholders around the world have stated their commitment to and support of EPR. In Europe, the mineral water and soft drink sectors have clearly stated their support for EPR by calling for the introduction of a well-designed DRS for beverage containers.
EPR is an industry-focused policy approach. However, consumer participation is imperative for EPR programs, such as DRS, to be successful. For example, producers can design packaging to be easily recycled, but if consumers choose to dispose of that packaging rather than recycle it, high recycling rates are not possible. For EPR to be truly successful, it requires behavioral changes from both producers and consumers.
The future of EPR is likely to play out differently depending on implementation in developed vs. developing markets. Developed markets have some base level of recycling infrastructure, whereas developing markets today tend to lack recycling infrastructure.
For developed markets, where the goal is to design 75% of plastic packaging for recycling by 2030, the focus will be on high quality systems that deliver circularity.1
In developing markets, where a lower target of 50% of plastic packaging designed for recycling by 2030 are being discussed, emphasis needs to be placed on the building out of widespread but basic collection and recycling infrastructure that will be required first. This will enable EPR laws to be met.
EPR is a strategic policy approach to ensure that producers and manufacturers take responsibility for the full lifecycle of their products and packaging. This industry-funded approach incentivizes producers to prioritize packaging design and management based on the waste hierarchy to achieve better environmental outcomes.
This means more producers offer reuse, repair, and recycling over disposal, and ensure that we keep waste out of our oceans and the environment.
If you want to learn more about EPR and what it means for both producers and consumers, download TOMRA’s latest white paper EPR Unpacked: A Policy Framework for a Circular Economy. This white paper offers an in-depth look into this policy approach and how it can help with the transition to a circular economy.
1 - Resource Recovery Playbook: Expectations for the circular economy of 2030 and the steps required to a sustainable future
– TOMRA, 2020