Product stewardship legislation has been proposed and considered in a number of states. Legislation is often used to compel various product manufacturers and industries to participate in a qualified program. However, hurdles stand in the way of enacting laws that would be beneficial for the environment, business, communities and future generations of people who will be affected by the outcome.
As product stewardship proponents, we need to identify ways to help facilitate adoption of these bills. This starts with a full understanding of the legislative process, what has been successful, what has been challenging and what has been learned.
What we know is that municipalities are often fundamental drivers of product stewardship legislation. Their landfills have finite capacity, their recycling budgets demand relief and their constituents seek recycling options. The municipalities call on state legislators to craft laws that enable the most responsible disposal and recycling of refuse.
State agencies and legislatures grapple with product stewardship. Agencies often seek legislation that will provide an all-encompassing framework for the disparate recyclable mandates for products like paint, batteries, mattresses and carpeting. However, as states better understand the specifics of channels, materials and recycling behavior, they have often stepped back from this “one size fits all” approach. They’ve seen the difficulties in a single, common approach.
Currently, except for e-Waste, there are few product stewardship laws in the nation. Most laws have been recently enacted. More are expected. Though the intent of these initiatives may be positive, governments need to do a better job of differentiating their approaches to product stewardship.
Defining Characteristics: An Emerging Best Practice for Product Stewardship Legislation
A better approach would be to evaluate products and categorize them based on distinct characteristics, which could better support the enactment of product stewardship laws. Key factors must be taken into account, which can help answer and prioritize municipality concerns and shape future legislation. These include:
1. Funding – It is imperative to determine how the programs are funded. Does the product stewardship organization assess a fee for the take-back program or does it internalize that fee? The differences in each funding mechanism define the level of agency oversight. For example, funds that are generated by a fee imposed at the point of sale demands more detailed oversight than monies generated by a self-funding program.
2. Health – Are there any health-related issues that could complicate the take-back of the product? The improper disposal of both batteries and paint could lead to contamination of groundwater and soil with potentially harmful substances. The issues surrounding hazardous materials and recycling complicate a product stewardship program and require distinct measures to be enacted.