Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is finding acceptance. Read why some companies are embracing this principle, why others aren't, and how your company might apply this concept to its business practices to garner results.
This post was originally published by Shelby Bell in 2020 and has been updated. America has a bit of a problem. In 2020, the EPA set its first-ever National Recycling Goal, aiming to achieve a 50% overall (all-material) recycling rate by 2030. The issue, however, is that since 2005, our progress in that arena has been stagnant. The U.S. has never topped a 35% national recycling rate, and rampant “wishcycling”—the process of adding an item to your recycling bin without knowing if it’s actually recyclable—has led to overall contamination rates soaring over 25%. It’s a problem as complex as, say, your standard juice box. Juice boxes are constructed with three to six layers of paper, plastic, and aluminum, plus a plastic straw wrapped in plastic film affixed to the side with a glob of glue. They are very hard to recycle. As is the nature of big problems in the United States, there has been more than one opinion on how best to tackle tricky recycling challenges (like juice boxes) within the country’s inefficient recycling system. And one of the most hotly debated topics revolves around determining who’s really responsible for making it work. In 2021, with sustainability and environmentalism at the forefront of both consumer and business conversations, there’s a growing movement that believes businesses should be held accountable for their products through product stewardship, a concept known as extended producer responsibility (commonly shortened to “EPR”). Through corporate governance, regulation, and the influence of the consumer, EPR may have a major impact on how both businesses and the waste industry operate for decades to come. But it’s no magic pill, and knowing the concept’s pros and cons is essential for sustainable decisions to come.