Extended Producer Responsibility – Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated: March 10, 2021

The Recycling Council of Alberta (RCA) has released FAQs to provide answers to common questions about EPR. These FAQs should be read in conjunction with the RCA’s Key Principles of an EPR Framework and will evolve as we receive more questions.

EPR is a key instigator to establish a circular economy, which is the ultimate outcome we strive to achieve in Alberta. The concept of a circular economy involves designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, and regenerating natural systems. The shift to a circular economy is needed because our current linear economy (take – make – dispose) is unsustainable.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is EPR?

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an environmental / economic policy approach in which producers of products and packaging bear responsibility for ensuring those products and packages are properly managed at the end of their life-cycle (OWMA, 2013).

EPR shifts decision making to producers. Producers have the obligation and authority to coordinate and operate recycling systems that keep materials in use. In EPR, producers have incentive to:

  • rethink design –recyclability, dematerialize
  • increase product lifespan –repair, reuse
  • invest in new recycling system processes and technologies
  • use recycled content

… because both costs and consequences are borne by producers.

Has EPR been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions?

Yes, EPR exists in provinces across Canada and has been implemented in countries across Europe since the 1990s.

How do Alberta’s existing stewardship programs for beverage containers, used oil, electronics, paint and tires differ from EPR?

Alberta’s existing stewardship programs are operated by Delegated Administrative Organizations (DAOs) – the Beverage Container Management Board (BCMB) and Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA). Under the DAO model, the Government of Alberta  assigns the program’s operational responsibility to BCMB and ARMA; these DAOs deliver the programs on behalf of government. Government retains ultimate financial responsibility for the programs, including having final authority over fee setting.

Under EPR, the government assigns producers with financial and operational responsibility to meet performance obligations. Producers act to meet their regulatory obligations. Liability for program outcomes also remains with producers. This means if there are market challenges or fluctuations, producers are responsible, but also empowered to solve this issue in a free-market system. Under EPR, any fees collected are set by the producer and can be linked to the design of the individual product or incorporated into the price of the product. This provides the producer with incentive for green design and responsible management, which is a necessary driver to achieve a circular economy.

What is a producer?

A producer is the entity responsible for meeting requirements set out in an EPR regulation. The producer is typically defined in a hierarchy that obligates the company with the closest commercial connection to the designated product. In practice, producers are the manufacturers, brand owners, importers, or distributors of products supplied to consumers in the province.

What is a producer responsibility organization (PRO)?

PROs are for-profit or non-profit corporations that a producer may appoint as an agent to collect and manage designated products and packaging on the producer’s behalf to meet the producer’s EPR obligations. Producers may choose to appoint a PRO or may choose to act alone to meet their obligations (if allowed in the regulation). As PROs operate collection systems, PROs also play an important role in educating the public about how to participate to improve recycling performance.

What role would municipalities play in a provincially-regulated EPR system?

As most residents’ point of contact for recycling services in Alberta’s current collection system, municipalities bring operational experience that can be of value to producers and their PROs. In other jurisdictions with regulated EPR systems, municipalities have often chosen to act as contractors to PROs to provide collection services to residents either directly or through municipally-hired sub-contractors. However, other municipalities have made a different choice and have decided not to provide recycling collection services; in those municipalities the PROs provide the services directly to residents without municipal involvement (e.g., City of Vancouver).  

What role would retailers play in a provincially-regulated EPR system?

Some retailers may be the designated producer because they are the brand owner or importer of products. Some retailers may be part of a producer’s or PRO’s collection system – i.e., provide return-to-retail collection sites. Because retailers interact with consumers, retailers should understand the EPR regulations, particularly the collection system, so they can share information with their customers, if asked.

What role would companies that collect, transfer and/or process recyclable materials play in a provincially-regulated EPR system?

Companies that collect and manage products and packaging for waste management and recycling bring operational experience that can be of value to producers and their PROs. These companies may provide services directly to producers or PROs, or to municipalities who act as contractors to producers or PROs.

Materials

What types of products and packaging are managed under EPR systems in other jurisdictions?

EPR has been regulated by other provinces and countries for a variety of items including used oil, tires, electronics, cell phones, appliances, packaging, paper products, batteries, pharmaceuticals, fluorescent bulbs, mercury-containing products, pesticides, antifreeze, solvents, pressurized containers, end-of-life-vehicles and mattresses.

What are the differences between EPR across all provinces/territories?

The regulation of EPR varies across the country, with BC’s regulated EPR framework covering the most products, and Alberta being the only province west of Quebec with no EPR for packaging and paper products.

Why is Alberta focusing on EPR for packaging and paper products (PPP) and hazardous and special products (HSP)?

PPP represent a significant portion of the residential recycling stream and its management is a financial burden to municipalities and those who pay municipal utility fees and property taxes. HSPs, while a small portion of municipal waste, can create health and safety risks and environmental pollution if improperly managed.

Has EPR been used for organics?

Organics are a significant opportunity to divert waste but are not associated with a clear “producer”, so have not been incorporated into EPR systems to date, even though their packaging has been.

Has EPR been used for waste from the ICI sector?

Some EPR regulations require collection and management of materials from both the residential and ICI sectors, for example used oil, tires, electronics, cell phones, fluorescent bulbs, mercury-containing products and antifreeze.

To date, EPR has not been used for packaging and paper products from the ICI sector in Canada.

Costs

How do producers factor in costs to participate in EPR?

Under EPR, producers are responsible for the costs to collect and manage their materials. These costs become another cost of doing business for producers, which encourages them to design products to facilitate recycling and invest in processes to minimize end-of-life costs. Costs of EPR for packaging and paper products are typically a fraction of a penny per package.

How expensive will EPR for packaging and paper products be for consumers?

Research has shown that there is no discernible difference in the cost of goods in jurisdictions with EPR for packaging and paper products compared to those without.          

What are potential savings for Alberta municipalities if EPR for packaging and paper products is regulated?

A study completed in Alberta in 2019 demonstrated that EPR for packaging and paper products could reduce the recycling collection services costs that municipalities charge their residents each year by up to $105 million. If producers become responsible for collection and management of PPP, municipalities can pass along their cost savings to municipal residents or reinvest in other municipal services.

Compliance

Who would regulate EPR in the Province?

EPR regulations fall under provincial jurisdiction and would be introduced by Alberta Environment and Parks.

What is the goal of EPR?

The goal of EPR should be to set obligations for producers to achieve. If, as we’ve said in the RCA’s EPR principles, proper outcomes are set, then producers will be innovative and progressive to meet outcomes that will enhance the circular economy. Examples could include designing the most efficient collection systems and the redesign of packaging to incorporate recycled content or ensuring recyclability to advance packaging circularity.

How will EPR oversight work in Alberta?

Oversight, compliance, and enforcement activities are critical to ensure producers meet their requirements and performance targets under EPR regulations. Approaches vary across Canada, with some provincial governments performing the compliance and enforcement function internally (e.g., BC) and other governments delegating this responsibility to a third-party organization that then recovers its costs through fees levied on the obligated producers, removing the cost of oversight from the provincial government and its taxpayers.

Is compliance and enforcement more difficult with multinational companies?

A hierarchical definition of a producer in EPR regulations allows the regulator to identify the company with the closest commercial connection to the designated product that is subject to the jurisdiction’s regulatory requirements. If a multinational company is not subject to the jurisdiction’s regulatory requirements because it does not have a Canadian office, companies importing the multinational’s products assumes the EPR obligations. Jurisdictions often allow an out-of-jurisdiction company to voluntarily take on EPR responsibilities on behalf of the distributors or retailers that import their products.

What are the pros/cons of EPR exemptions for small and medium-sized enterprises?

An exemption based on size can reduce the financial and red-tape burden on small business while also avoiding time and effort to enforce compliance by companies that supply relatively small amounts of the designated material.

However, exemptions must be carefully considered, as they represent a breach of the principle of a level playing field because larger producers will be collecting and managing products supplied by the exempt companies.

What are complementary policy tools to support EPR?

EPR is one policy tool to encourage producers to design for recycling but may not deliver all the environmental benefits that governments may want to realize. Complementary instruments may be required to achieve some desired environmental outcomes.

Examples of complementary instruments include:

▪ ‘right to repair’ laws that discourage producers to design for obsolescence;
▪ hazardous material restrictions (e.g., Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS));
▪ requirements for recycled content;
▪ requirements for eco-modulation of fees (e.g., France or Germany); and,
▪ requirements for designs to mitigate litter and any associated risk to wildlife.

Back to the RCA’s main EPR webpage.

[1] OWMA, 2013. Extended Producer Responsibility Policy Paper. Available at: https://www.owma.org/articles/extended-producer-responsibility-policy-paper Retrieved August 18, 2020.