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Episode 5: Demystifying Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

In this episode of Unpacking Recycling with Charlotte, we cover all things EPR. From how it works and the costs associated with it, to why Europe is more successful with it than the U.S., Charlotte answers your most pressing questions.

Liz Bothwell

March 15, 2022

In this episode of Unpacking Recycling with Charlotte, we cover all things EPR. From how it works and the costs associated with it, to why Europe is more successful with it than the U.S., Charlotte answers your most pressing questions.

Here’s a sneak peek into the episode…

Charlotte set the stage by explaining that EPR “better supports recycling opportunities for items that are produced.” And “it’s kind of the secret sauce of why Europe has such high recycling rates.” But here in the U.S., she notes that only about 10 states have tried to pass EPR programs.

Q: What is EPR and how does it work?

A: These are programs that require the producers of an item to pay for its end-of-life management. For curbside programs, for recycling, typically that means packaging in printed paper. But EPR programs can exist for lots of different types of materials. And here in the U.S., we’ve made much better progress on those other types of materials — not so much on the curbside piece of the puzzle. We have programs that exist for things like mattresses, carpet, paint, tires, textiles, medical sharps…

If you think about, say, a paint manufacturer providing paint-recycling opportunities, paint stores might accept paint back, and they’ll send it back to their distribution and reuse it into their processes. It’s a little bit more contained [than curbside-recycling programs]. For packaging and printed paper, EPR can be just the financial piece of producers paying for recycling, or it can be a requirement for manufacturers to physically do and manage the collection of recyclables.

Q: What are some of the nuances of EPR programs?

A: A producer creates a third-party entity to facilitate EPR compliance: it’s typically called a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO). And, in some places, you have one PRO that you join — all the producers get together and pay into a system, and that third party cuts a check to the government for the amount requited to recycle the packaging they’re creating. For companies that are handling the physical aspects of recycling, that third party would hire a hauler — or multiple haulers — and they would go out and provide those services. A lot of EPR programs also require that producers spend a certain amount on education and outreach.

Q: Why is Belgium so successful with its EPR program?

A: In their program, not only are producers required to pay for and manage the reyclables a household produces, but they are also responsible for paying a half-Euro fee for each resident in Belgium to do anti-litter education. And, producers that fail to make a certain recycling rate (55% is the minimum in the European Union) must pay a fee per ton for which they fail to meet the target.

Watch the full episode here and share with a friend.

About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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