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Who is Responsible for Waste – The Producer or The User?

Written by Sarah Fernandes in collaboration with Mark Valentine

With pollution, plastics and recycling being front-of-mind for a lot of people at this point in time, the question that often springs to mind is who should be responsible for waste?  How often have you looked at the back of packaging after purchase only to see the dreaded words “not currently recycled”?  For those who are committed to recycling, there is nothing more frustrating.  Shouldn’t the packaging producers at least manufacture something that will make it easy for people to do the right thing?  It’s time to delve into the issue of extended producer responsibility.

landfillExtended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also known as Product Stewardship, is a fundamental principle of Zero Waste.  The concept was first introduced by Thomas Lindhqvist in 1990 and is a strategy that places the onus of end-of-life management of products on the product manufacturers.  It also promotes the design of products that have a minimal impact on the environment and human health, throughout the product’s life cycle.  Importantly, EPR makes the manufacturer of the product responsible for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of the used product.  As a result, producers are defined as the responsible party for setting up and making available financial and/or physical solutions to consumers.

EPR basically follows the “polluter pays” principle.  If you manufacture a product, you should be fully responsible for the pollution it causes as well as the costs associated with handling it, whether it be disposal or recycling, when the consumer is done using it.  This is not happening, with the financial and infrastructure requirements burden falling upon local Municipalities.  The current system is unfair, as Municipalities cannot control who buys or makes the products, yet they are still expected to foot the ever-increasing bills.  EPR returns balance to the system by shifting responsibility towards the producer and away from Municipalities.

It is time that consumers (who are the majority) as well as leaders start applying more pressure on the manufacturers to either make use of biodegradable solutions, and if this is not possible, to have some form of ‘sustainable’ recycling initiative in place.  Where companies are clearly not making a significant move towards sustainability and EPR, us consumers need to stop supporting them in not purchasing their products. Consumers need to seriously consider supporting local businesses striving for sustainable solutions.

Although manufacturers should be fully responsible for their own waste, the consumer can play a vital role in ensuring that businesses make the shift towards sustainable practices.  We, as consumers, have the power to accelerate this much needed shift by not purchasing unsustainable products.  We at Green Office urge consumers to thoroughly research businesses that they purchase from in the spirit of green procurement and overall sustainability.

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