Published June 17, 2021

In recent years, we've been hearing more and more about "Extended Producer Responsibility," or EPR for short, but what is that, exactly?

Extended Producer Responsibility, as its name implies, is the principle of holding companies responsible for the products they put on the market. As to how that’s done, and what EPR applies to, these vary considerably from country to country, program to program and even product to product! It's a bit complex.

he concept was introduced in the late 1980s, but only began taking off in the 2000s. The EPR principle aims to have governments hold companies fully accountable for the environmental cost of each product they put on the market, from its design all the way to the end of its useful life.

In many cases, however, EPR programs are limited to the end of the products' life cycle and simply require that producers see to it that they are collected and recycled. They often rely on organizations to organize the drop-off points and the collection, transportation and recycling.

Many countries that have introduced EPR programs for different products, such as electronic devices, packaging or batteries, settle for simply requiring that the collection and recycling targets stipulated in the applicable regulations be reached, to reduce the amount of waste and the financial burden municipalities bear (which, of course, directly impacts your municipal tax bill). Yet, it would be in everyone’s interest to hold producers responsible well before the end of their products’ life, by requiring them to:

  • Use recyclable materials in their products;
  • Ensure that the products they put on the market have a minimum useful life (versus planned obsolescence);
  • Make their products repairable, i.e., make spare parts available and make the products easy to disassemble for repair;
  • Apply ecodesign principles to reduce the resources needed to make the products;
  • And more!

In short, while making producers responsible for collecting and recycling their products is a first step in holding them accountable, other measures need to be taken to ensure true corporate ownership of the products put on the market and to create a circular economy.

Which leads me to wonder: when will extended consumer responsibility be imposed?