Requirements that manufacturers assume physical responsibility for products and/or packaging at the end of their useful lives. Manufacturers have often created a “third-party organization” to fulfill their obligations under this type of program. For example, in 1991 Germany adopted a law making producers responsible for product packaging after consumers discard it. To comply with the law, German industry established a non-profit third-party organization called Duales System Deutschland (DSD) to operate the system. DSD is responsible for the collection and recycling of packaging waste throughout Germany. Industry funds DSD through licensing fees.
Assessments, sometimes referred to as “eco-taxes” or “eco-fees,” charged to either manufacturers or consumers, the proceeds of which are often used to fund product recovery programs. For example, British ColumbiaÕs paint stewardship program is funded by “eco-fees.” The fees, assessed at the point of sale, are effectively product price increases; however, they are shown as a separate line item on consumers’ receipts. In Belgium, eco-taxes are aimed at encouraging the use of reusable and recyclable products, ensuring recycling rates of particular products (e.g. beverage containers, paper, disposable cameras) gradually increase to high levels, and preventing hazardous substances (e.g. batteries, industrial packaging) entering the waste stream.
Refundable fees paid by consumers to ensure return of products at the end of their lives. The most familiar deposit-refund systems are “bottle bills.” In the ten U.S. states with bottle bills, the laws require beverage retailers to pay consumers a specified refund value for returning empty containers, and require wholesale distributors of the beverages to pay refunds to retailers. South Korea has enacted a more extensive deposit-refund system covering food containers, tires, batteries, lubricants, pesticide containers, and plastics.
Purchasing policies of government agencies or other organizations that specify environmental preferable purchasing guidelines. Government, businesses, and consumers can use their purchasing power to leverage manufacturer decisions. By specifying purchasing preferences for products that have less environmental impact, organizations can spur manufacturers to use recycled-content, design for recycling, minimize waste, or create less toxic products. Procurement preferences can provide an immediate market for environmentally and socially responsible products. For example, purchases of recycled-content paper by King County, Washington, agencies grew from 8% in 1989 to 94% in 1998, after the County adopted federal guidelines for minimum recycled-content.
Prohibiting the sale or distribution of products that are believed to have harmful environmental impacts that far outweigh any advantages of the product. For example, The European Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste limits concentration levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in packaging or packaging components. In the United States, 37 states have enacted some type of product or packaging restrictions. For example, Rhode Island prohibits non-biodegradable plastic carrier rings, packaging containing potentially toxic heavy metals, metal beverage containers with detachable flip tops, plastic food or beverage containers composed of more than one resin, degradable plastic containers which interfere with recycling, and telephone directory binders which interfere with recycling.
Programs that grant manufacturers the right to display logos or seals on products meeting criteria established by a third-party assessment body and/or requirements that manufacturers place particular environmental information on product labels. Most established eco-label systems are of the first type. Eco-labeling programs have influenced product design. For example, in Sweden, the nation’s leading supermarket chain required its laundry detergent and home cleaning product suppliers to qualify for an eco-label or face loss of shelf space. In response to this ultimatum, major companies such as Procter and Gamble, Unilever and Johnson Wax have reformulated their products.
Requirements that products or packaging reach a particular recycling, reuse, or refilling rate, or contain a minimum recycled-content. Germany has set a requirement that 72% of containers for most beverages be refillable (the mandatory refillable rate for milk containers is 17%). If the quota is not met, the German government has threatened to impose mandatory deposits on beverage containers. In the United States, eight states and the District of Columbia have set minimum recycled-content levels for newsprint.
Requirements that products or packaging are designed to reduce environmental impact. For example, Finland implemented requirements that manufacturers must reduce the ratio of packaging waste to product by 6% from 1995 to 2001. South Korea has passed a comprehensive set of design criteria defining allowable empty space ratios in packaging and limiting the number of layers of packaging for specific product categories.
Product Stewardship Initiatives
Providing direction to all involved in producing, selling, and using of products to examine the full environmental impacts of products and packaging. The state of Minnesota, for example, has developed a product stewardship policy. As part of this initiative the MN Office of Environmental Assistance and the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board have created two task forces. One has initiated a dialogue with paint manufacturers to examine product stewardship opportunities. The other has focused on electronic products containing cathode ray tubes. These task forces are advancing the broad framework for product stewardship and communicating that manufacturers and others involved in selling and using products need to assume more responsibility for managing their products at the end of their life.