Call2Recycle CEO & President, Carl Smith, will be a guest blogger for the month of May on Waste & Recycling News. This is the second installment, bookmark this site and check back for new posts each week.
Responsible Recycling – May 1, 2012
What is product stewardship?
Some of us are old enough to remember collecting glass bottles for the deposit no matter where in the U.S. we lived. Our recycling efforts, voluntary or imposed, might be interpreted as “product stewardship,” but this emerging concept goes beyond this simplistic view of recycling. It encompasses every stage of a product’s life, from design to end-of-life disposal.
A straightforward definition of product stewardship is reducing the life-cycle impacts of products. These efforts might be motivated by the market value of the item collected, legislative mandates, brand image considerations or simply altruistic desires to be good environmental citizens.
Increasing pressure is being felt by multiple stakeholders to reduce the environmental and social impacts associated with global consumption. Retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, governments, NGOs, researchers and consumers share an obligation for the sustainability of global product production and use. In response, voluntary stewardship programs have been implemented by individual companies and by industrial sectors. Sector schemes include end-of-life cars in Sweden and nickel cadmium batteries in the U.S.
In some instances the prescribed remedy is mandated, often by the states in which products are sold. Some provide incentives for companies developing end-of-life programs for their products giving money back from the state. According to Chaz Miller, director of state programs for the National Solid Waste Management Association, “32 states currently have product stewardship laws, easily covering the majority of the country. Something like two-thirds of the country have laws concerning electronics products. They’re all a function of product stewardship laws.”
Semantics Can Get in the Way
Motivations aside, the concept of product stewardship has been bandied about quite a bit and can mean different things to different people. Recently, three groups, Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute, Sacramento-based California Product Stewardship Council and Product Policy Institute of Athens, Georgia, published a joint statement defining product stewardship and extended producer responsibility (EPR). They hope these clarify discussions and facilitate the establishment of more product stewardship programs and EPR policies.
The declaration defined product stewardship as “the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages.” They added that it can be either voluntary or required by law and while “the producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, other stakeholders such as suppliers, retailers and consumers, also play a role.”
The groups also defined roles for government, retailers and consumers:
- Government is responsible for ensuring a level playing field for all parties in the product value chain to maintain a competitive marketplace with open access to all, for setting and enforcing performance goals and standards, for supporting industry programs through procurement, and for helping educate the public.
- Retailers only sell brands within a covered product category that are made by producers participating in an industry program, and are responsible for providing information to consumers on how to access the programs.
- Consumers have a responsibility to reduce waste, reuse products, use take-back and other collection programs, and make appropriate purchasing decisions based on available information about product impacts and benefits.
The roles of these groups and other constituencies involved with product stewardship are still evolving, but involving all groups in the discussion is key to successfully protecting the environment. Transparency in developing these responsibilities and the standards governing the processes is also vital. Next time we will discuss the parts all parties can play in product stewardship.Share