Extended Producer Responsibility in BC
Recycle BC is among more than 20 extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs introduced in BC over the past two decades. EPR is a way for industry to manage the environmental impact of products during all stages of the product lifecycle, from production to collection and recycling when a product is no longer useful. The concept behind EPR in BC is to make businesses responsible for collecting and recycling the products they supply into the BC marketplace.
History of EPR
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) describes the life-cycle of products and packaging made, sold and distributed by suppliers, importers, first-sellers, brand-owners, retailers and manufacturers.
EPR encourages a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach to managing materials, meaning products and packaging discarded by the consumer are recovered, recycled and reused to make new products – redirecting waste destined for landfill and reducing our impact on the environment.
Reuse and recycling uses less energy than manufacturing from new materials and as the costs of collection, processing and recycling are shifted from taxpayers to the producers of the materials, this approach encourages industry to be more innovative in product and packaging design.
The origins of EPR are attributed to Sweden’s Thomas Lindhqvist who in 1990, on behalf of Lund University, introduced the idea of manufacturer’s being responsible for their products to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment.
The aim of his research was to ascertain how recycling and waste management systems were leading to policies to promote cleaner production.
Lindhqvist expanded on the definition of EPR in a report produced in 1992:
Extended Producer Responsibility is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of the product. The Extended Producer Responsibility is implemented through administrative, economic and informative instruments. The composition of these instruments determines the precise form of the Extended Producer Responsibility.
Lindhqvist’s proposal came at a time when several European countries were initiating strategies to improve the end-of-life management of products, which resulted in almost all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) establishing EPR policies as an approach to pollution prevention and waste minimisation.
Germany introduced the first example of EPR in Europe in 1991 with a requirement that manufacturers assume responsibility for recycling or disposing of packaging material they sold. In response, German industry set up a ‘dual system’ for waste collection, picking up household packaging alongside municipal waste collections.
EPR in British Columbia
BC’s first EPR program came in 1994 with the Post-Consumer Paint Stewardship Program Regulation. The paint regulation required that producers and consumers assume responsibility for waste paint, and in response, producers introduced paint collection depots for consumers across the province.
1997 saw the enactment of the Beverage Container Stewardship Program Regulation providing further regulation of ready-to-drink beverages. The legislation required that beverage brand-owners establish a province-wide deposit-return system, with a minimum goal of 85 percent recovery and a mandate that returned containers must be re-filled or recycled.
In 2003 BC’s Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, (now the Ministry of the Environment) announced its intention to streamline EPR regulatory structure, favouring a single comprehensive, results-based regulation to cover producer operated product stewardship programs. The new EPR legislation, called the Recycling Regulation, was introduced in 2004.
BC has established over twenty EPR programs that divert used and discarded products from landfills and ensure that valuable material can be recycled again and again.
In 2012, EPR Canada, a not-for-profit group that monitors the adoption of legislative measures in Canada to make producers responsible for managing their post‐consumer products and packaging at end of life, ranked BC first among the federal, provincial and territorial governments for its development of EPR policies and programs. In 2013, BC took top honours a second time in a tie with Quebec.
EPR across Canada
As of 2013, over 80 EPR programs operate throughout Canada, most of which are regulated by provincial governments.
Canada formalized its commitment to EPR in October 2009, when the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) released a Canada-wide Action Plan for EPR. The CCME Plan aims to increase diversion of solid waste by coordinating provincial EPR programs and entrenching the principle in Canadian waste policy.
Benefits of EPR: Profit, people and planet
As businesses, producers and manufacturers moved through the 20th and into the 21st century, profitability could no longer be measured solely on traditional corporate profit. Companies increasingly measure their progress against a ‘triple bottom line’ of profit, people and planet that assesses a company’s social responsibility through its operation and its impact on the environment. EPR contributes to the triple bottom line as businesses reduce their energy consumption, minimize the use of non-renewable resources, reuse secondary materials and reduce packaging waste by thinking innovatively about their packaging choices.
Research conducted across the country shows time and again that consumers’ views of a company’s environmental commitment influences their purchasing decisions, further emphasizing the importance of business embracing EPR and sustainable approaches to conducting their activities.