Message in a bottle: Producers not taxpayers should pay for the waste they generate
Today’s post is by Maroussia Klep of the OECD Environment Directorate
Have you ever wondered who was paying to recycle that plastic bottle you just threw away? Until recently, it would have been collected and – to the extent possible – recycled by municipalities with the use of public money. But this is changing and today most used bottles are managed directly by their manufacturers.
This evolution came with the introduction of the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Put in simple terms, EPR shifts responsibility away from municipalities onto producers for managing and recycling used products; although municipalities and private recyclers may still be involved for certain tasks. This implies that a soda company is required to finance and organise the recycling of its bottles when they are discarded by consumers. The same applies of course to other sectors.
The movement first started in a few European countries in the early 1990s and developed rapidly across industrialised countries. Today, most OECD countries have implemented EPR policies in key sectors such as packaging, electronics, batteries, tyres and vehicles. In recent years, emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America have also started to follow the move. There are now approximately 400 EPR programmes in place around the world.
EPR policies have proven to be successful in both, increasing collection and recycling rates, and in shifting the financial burden of waste management onto the shoulders of producers. Sharp improvements in recycling rates can indeed be observed following the introduction of such schemes, for example in Japan where the recycling of containers and packaging waste increased by 27% between 1997 and 2000 (1.25 to 1.59 million tons). In addition, these policies can reduce public spending and hence taxpayers’ money spent on waste management activities. In France for example, about 15% of the budget spent on municipal waste management is now financed by producers via EPR policies.
The OECD is playing an active role in encouraging and supporting governments in the implementation of EPR policies. In 2001, the organization published a Guidance Manual for Governments that provided the basic concepts and key policy recommendations on the topic. A Global Forum will take place this month in Tokyo to take stock of the evolution of EPR and will present a unique opportunity for a global, multi-stakeholder audience to exchange on their experience in designing and implementing such programmes. The outcomes of the discussions will help shape updated policy recommendations.
OECD work on EPR forms part of a broader effort to move towards resource efficient societies. The total volume of material resources extracted, harvested and consumed worldwide reached 62 billion metric tonnes (Gt) in 2008, a 65% increase since 1980 and an estimated 8 fold increase over the last century. It is projected to reach 100 Gt per year by 2030, generating increasing pressures on environmental resources as well as waste. Going for green growth and a resource efficient economy is thus a major environmental, development and macroeconomic challenge today. In this context, the use of policies that ensure sustainable materials management, building on the principles of the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – is crucial. The OECD is therefore advising governments on Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) policies aiming to reduce the amount of resources that human economic activity requires and to diminish the environmental impacts from their production and consumption.
As expressed by Simon Upton, Director at the OECD Environment Directorate, “Sustainable materials management helps to address the social, environmental and economic impacts throughout the life-cycle of a product or material. This can improve resource productivity and competitiveness. EPR policies are an effective tool to engage producers in that process.”
EPR demonstrates that the involvement of all actors – governments, producers, recyclers, consumers – is necessary to address global environmental challenges. So, next time you drink a soda, just bear in mind to throw the bottle in the right bin, and the whole chain will keep running.