The Concept of Generalised Extended Producer Responsibility (GEPR)

The notion of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been part of the waste policy for a long time, particularly within the OECD countries. According to the OECD, EPR “aims to make producers responsible for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product chain, from design to the post-consumer phase” [1]. EPR alleviates the burden of Public Administrations for managing end-of-life products, while -if properly designed- incentivising waste prevention and recycling.

Current Limitations of EPR

After years of implementation it can be argued that Extended Producer Responsibility has not in fact been so extended. Several limitations are common: a) producer responsibility organisations (PRO) managing the EPR do not assume the entire cost of managing the corresponding waste flows, and therefore Public Administrations (through taxes) continue to sustain part of the costs that should be borne by producers (and transferred into prices paid by consumers); b) Through their tariffs, PRO do not sufficiently incentivise recyclability and eco-design amongst individual producers; c) Insufficient transparency makes it difficult for Public Administrations to assess compliance; amongst others. [2]

However, a crucial limitation of EPR (even where this has been most developed) is that it is reduced to a very limited number of products. For example, within the European Union (EU), the application of EPR has only been made compulsory for waste from electric and electronic equipment, batteries and accumulators, and end-of-life vehicles. For other waste streams, EU legislation includes a specific mention to the option for Member States (MS) to promote EPR, such as for packaging waste, and oils, but ultimately the adoption of EPR depends on national legislation. [3]

For most products, EPR simply does not exist. Producers are allowed to put any product on the market, no matter how difficult and costly to manage it is when it turns into waste. This is truly unacceptable.

In some cases, products without EPR are a significant percentage of waste generation, such as for the case of graphic paper, furniture or textiles. In some other cases, these products are not so relevant in weight, but very environmentally problematic and/or very costly to manage, such as: disposable nappies, sanitary pads, cleaning wipes, paint pots, chewing gum, mattresses, cigarette buds, etc. The list could be much longer.

Of course, one could favour the idea of extending EPR specifically to other waste streams, but it seems unlikely that a product-by-product approach manages to cover a broad range of products. In the EU, for example, the Circular Economy Package, which is the most comprehensive effort to update the EU waste legislation in years, includes provisions for the improvement of EPR, but no plans for its extension to additional waste streams.

The idea of this article is to suggest the implementation of the concept of Generalised Extended Producer Responsibility (GEPR), whereby ALL products put into the market -all of them likely to become waste at some point- would be subject to extended producer responsibility.

The Concept of Generalised EPR

Whereas in traditional EPR, there is one or more PRO for each specific waste stream, and producers have to contribute to these PRO, in Generalised Extended Producer Responsibility (GEPR), specific EPR schemes could continue to exist, and maybe a few more would be created, but there would be also general PRO for all those products with no specific EPR schemes:

Public administrations would need to define how the different products contribute to collection and treatment costs (including street cleaning, littering prevention and clean-ups, etc.), and allocate the costs to the different EPR/GEPR schemes. Ultimately only costs related to biowaste –as they derive from endosomatic consumption of energy– should be borne by public administrations and transferred to taxpayers; all other costs should be borne by PRO and transferred to producers, and from them to consumers.

Many details would need to be discussed (links among existing EPR and new GEPR schemes and the corresponding PRO, legal nature, compatibility with other existing or potential economic incentives, etc.).

Of course, implementation of GEPR would entail more paperwork and the need of additional data on impact and cost of the different waste streams. However, this would be less burdensome, faster and cheaper to regulate and monitor than the never ending process of creating one new EPR scheme after another. This would also ensure a consistent application of EPR across a range of different products, which is lacking amongst the different existing EPR schemes.

This approach would be useful in places where application of EPR schemes is already halfway (like in most OECD countries), but also in other geographical contexts, where EPR is not applied or only at a very initial stage.

All in all, GEPR could generalise incentives towards recyclability and cleaner production, particularly if some lessons are learned from past initiatives; and would suppose a much fairer distribution of costs, shifting them from Public Administrations to producers, and ultimately from taxpayers to consumers.

Note: The article has been adapted from https://ent.cat/cap-a-la-generalitzacio-de-la-responsabilitat-ampliada-del-productor-grap/?lang=en

References

[1] OECD (2006), Extended Producer Responsibility: Updated Guidance for Efficient Waste Management, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264256385-en

[2] Based on own experience, and on OECD (2016), Extended Producer Responsibility: Updated Guidance for Efficient Waste Management, OECD Publishing, Paris; and Zero Waste Europe –Fundació per a la Prevenció de Residus i el Consum Responsable (2015) Redesigning Producer Responsibility. A new EPR is needed for a circular economy.

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/downloads/redesigning-producer-responsibility-a-new-epr-is-needed-for-a-circular-economy

[3] Development of Guidance on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Final Report. European Commission – DG Environment. 2014.

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/pdf/target_review/Guidance%20on%20EPR%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf

About Ignasi Puig Ventosa

Ignasi Puig Ventosa is head of projects at ENT Environment and Management and Fundació ENT in Barcelona. Previously, he has worked as environment advisor for the Spanish Parliament (Madrid) and as external researcher at the OECD (Paris). He is an industrial engineer, economist and holds a PhD in Environmental Sciences. His main research area is the use of market-based instruments related to environmental policy, with particular focus on municipal waste management. He has written several books on this topic, in addition to many technical and scientific papers in national and international peer-reviewed journals.
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