Public Policy

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging & Paper Products

Definition

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle (CCME, 2009)[1],[2].

Packaging and paper products (PPP) include all packaging and paper materials designated by provincial regulation as PPP. This may include both PPP generated by the residential and the business sectors (e.g., primary packaging, transport packaging, printed and non-printed paper). The current list of designated materials varies nationally; producers recommend working towards a harmonized national list of materials.

  • Some jurisdictions have or are considering expanding this category to include packaging-like products (e.g., tin pie plates that may be sold as a package or a product) and single-use products (e.g., disposable cutlery), which often end up on the recycling stream.

EPR System Explanation

  • Government (provincial, territorial or federal) must set a legal framework that requires producers to meet specific outcomes and enforce the law.
  • Producers must finance, design, and implement a system to meet the outcomes set by law. Producers accept all risks and liability associated with the system.
  • Municipalities can choose whether to provide service to the program or choose whether to allow producers to provide all program services.

In Canada, every province from Quebec west to British Columbia, except Alberta, has implemented some degree of producer funding for packaging and paper products and is benefitting from reduced taxpayer costs. British Columbia was the first to implement full EPR and is the model program in Canada.

Benefits

When fully implemented, EPR shifts the costs and operational responsibilities for managing recycling systems from local governments to producers.

Environment

  • Province-wide programs means every community should have an opportunity to recycle the same list of materials. Less material is littered and disposed of in landfill.

Local governments and taxpayers

  • Unless they choose otherwise, local governments should be freed from planning, paying for, and implementing recycling systems, and from the consequences of fluctuating material markets.
  • EPR for packaging and paper products (PPP) would save Alberta municipalities an estimated $65 to 70 million (i.e., the estimated current spend of Alberta municipalities on residential packaging and paper recycling programs).
  • EPR for additional material streams could provide further municipal cost savings by eliminating municipally-subsidized recycling programs.

Consumers

  • Because Alberta is the only province west of Quebec without a producer funded PPP recycling program, and because the cost of producer funded PPP program recycling is built into products’ pricing at point-of-sale (i.e., no additional eco-fees are charged on PPP), and because large producers tend to price their products nationally or at least cross-provincially, this means that Alberta’s consumers pay for the cost of PPP recycling in other provinces in the price of their goods. This also means Alberta’s consumers could be paying ‘twice’ for the cost of recycling (at point-of-sale and at the curbside).
  • Consumer confusion over ‘what can be recycled’ would be reduced. Province-wide recycling programs would enable the consumer to recycle the same list of materials where they live, work and play.

Producers

  • EPR levels the playing field for producers. All producers have the same incentive to green their products and packaging. No competitive advantage based on status quo.
    • Must meet regulated performance targets and standards (e.g., minimum recovery rates, minimum recycling rates, minimum program accessibility rates, definition of recycling).
  • EPR provides producers the incentive and freedom to innovate. Producers can:
    • Design and implement collection, processing and marketing systems that achieve efficiencies and economies of scale (regional, provincial, and even national) that are unattainable by individual municipalities.
    • Innovate and implement recycling best practices and invest in new technologies to reduce costs and produce higher value recycled commodities.
    • Reduce packaging that is not recyclable; improve packaging and product design; implement recycling best practices.

Recycling Economy

  • EPR systems divert more material from landfill and littering through coordinated recycling systems creating a greater economic opportunity for service providers (e.g., processors, haulers).

Small Business

  • EPR systems for PPP across Canada have exempted small businesses (i.e., those that fall below a sales threshold) from paying into the system by law or practice.

Optimal Legal Framework for EPR

  • The regulation should create a modern, enforceable, outcomes-based framework that requires producers to meet specific performance requirements (e.g., targets, and standards).
  • The EPR system’s governance structure should enable full EPR.
    • Producers should have maximum ability to self-organize their system, including their program’s governance structure.
    • A statutory regulatory authority should hold producers accountable to regulated outcomes and seek input from affected stakeholders on system performance as part of its oversight processes.
  • Regulated outcomes should, at a minimum, include evolving targets for: collection, recycling (including material specific); recovery (for material that can be recovered but not recycled), accessibility, coverage, service, and reporting.
  • There should be regulated consequences for not meeting targets, e.g., required contributions to litter clean-ups, investment funds for local recycling initiatives.
  • The definition of designated materials should include all packaging and paper products, regardless of source.
    • This would ensure that businesses in small communities that currently receive municipally offered PPP recycling services continue to receive service.
    • Phased implementation with defined dates could be considered.
  • The definition of producer should be harmonized nationally, wherever possible, to ensure the greatest harmonization and least administrative burden for producers. This helps keep administrative costs low.
  • A Small Business Exemption should be applied and harmonized nationally, wherever possible. This helps keeps administrative costs low for producers and small and medium sized businesses.
  • Municipalities should be offered ‘first right of refusal’ to continue local collection and education. This will provide municipalities with time to assess the ‘new EPR world’ options, exit any collection or processing contracts to avoid breach of contract, and avoid or manage any potentially stranded assets.
  • Other prescriptive measures should be avoided. Producers should have maximum flexibility to creatively achieve government-defined outcomes to enable maximum system and packaging innovation (e.g., some businesses may switch to return-to-retail or refillables, which could have better environmental outcomes).

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[1] CCME, 2009. Canada-wide Action Plan on Extended Producer Responsibility. Available at: https://www.ccme.ca/files/current_priorities/waste/pn_1499_epr_cap_e.pdf. Retrieved April 29, 2019.

[2] Post-consumer materials include everything that is not pre-consumer materials. The US EPA defines pre-consumer materials as:

Therefore, post-consumer materials include all residential and industrial, commercial and institutional materials that are not by-products of material manufacturing processes.

 

Zero Plastic Waste

RCA's Position on Shopping Bags

Single-use bags of any type represent wasteful resource use. Recycling of plastic and paper bags is environmentally preferable to disposal, but is less preferable than reduction and reuse options. The Recycling Council of Alberta supports programs that encourage the use of durable, reusable options rather than single-use shopping bags. Examples of these programs include financial incentives / disincentives and supporting education campaigns.