Extended producer responsibility may increase recycling rates

| July 19, 2013

So far, the government has taken the lead in encouraging consumers to recycle, with initiatives like curbside recycling, drop-off centers, and refund programs. However, experts believe extended producer responsibility could significantly increase the percentage of recycling in the United States. Following this strategy, corporate America (and not the government) will be responsible for recycling post-consumer waste.

Packaging material, for instance, can be efficiently recycled by businesses who manufacture it. Packaging makes up more than 40 percent of the country’s solid waste stream, and most of this is recyclable.

Extended Producer Responsibility

extended producer responsibility

If the manufacture doesn’t offer recycling options for packaging, try to reuse it as much as possible. From

Corporate recycling can be achieved through extended producer responsibility (EPR), a mandatory type of product-stewardship that requires companies to collect and recycle the packaging waste they generate. Companies can determine for themselves how they would go about doing so.

Jim Hanna, Director of Environmental Affairs for Starbucks, points out, “Local governments are literally going broke and so are looking for ways to shift the costs of recycling off onto someone, and companies that make the packaging are logical candidates.”

As it is now, consumers often shoulder the cost of recycling. According to Forbes, “While the cost of EPR would be built into the cost of consumer products, the legislation would eliminate the fee consumers currently pay for city or county-provided recycling.”

Advantages of packaging recycling for companies

While countries like Denmark, where EPR has been a success, recycle 84% of their packaging, the U.S. lags behind, recycling just 48.3% of packaging material. Public policy action in the way of EPR laws could lift these numbers. Some U.S. companies also favor such legislation. Nestle Waters North America is one of them.

“We have found that packaging is the largest part of our environmental footprint, so from a sustainability perspective, we have an incentive to increase our use of rPET [recycled polyethylene terephthalate],” says Michael Washburn, Nestle Waters’ Director of Sustainability.

There are other ways in which EPR makes sense. Washburn says, “We also think this [EPR] could help take some volatility out of the markets and out of our supply chain–remember plastic is an oil-based product.”

Cost wise too, recycling makes sense. Paul Gardner, executive director of Recycling Reinvented says, “It requires less energy, fewer chemicals, and less water to make stuff out of recycled materials.”

EPR would also motivate companies to produce less packaging. The value of wasted, recyclable consumer packaging materials exceeded $11 billion in 2010. While recycling is high for materials like paper, glass, and electronics, there is room for much more packaging to be recycled.

Companies that have started recycling packaging on their own

Some companies have begun recycling packaging of their own volition. Aveda, a botanical hair care and skin care brand, recently announced their Full Circle recycling program. From July 15, 2013, consumers will be able to return Aveda packaging, not accepted by curbside recycling programs, to any of the 107 Aveda stores across the country.

Aveda’s partner, (g²) revolution, will sort Aveda’s packaging and recycle it in material that can be used to make new packaging or accessories. Dave Rapaport, Aveda’s Vice President of Earth and Community Care, says that Aveda develops “packaging with high levels of post-consumer recycled content that can be continuously cycled.”

According to Rapaport, 98 percent of the materials returned to stores in Aveda’s 2011-2012 pilot program in Colorado were reusable.

extended producer responsibility

One of Stonyfield Farm’s yogurt recycling bins. From Envirothink.

Starbucks has also developed a closed loop recycling system: 18 percent of its stores now have bins, where customers can dispose of their cups. These cups are then sent by trucks to a recycling facility in Wisconsin where they are combined with other recycled material to make the paper napkins at all Starbucks locations.

Stonyfield Farm, the world’s largest organic yogurt maker, has gone one step further. Yogurt is mostly sold in polypropylene, or No. 5. Plastic cups, which is not recyclable in most municipalities. In 2008, Stonyfield Farm started putting yogurt cup collection bins in Whole Foods stores. Consumers can drop off any No. 5 container in these bins, including those of competing yogurt brands. The containers are then collected, taken to a plant for processing, and recycled to make razors and toothbrushes by Preserve, a company that sells eco-friendly, kitchen and personal care items.


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Category: Plastic, Regulations

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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