A new study commissioned by Zero Waste Europe has found that the majority of product waste is not covered by current extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and calls for the redesigning of producer responsibility in order to move towards a circular economy.
Redesigning producer responsibility analyzes the waste composition of 15 European cities, showing that 70 percent of municipal solid waste is product waste — and therefore not food or garden waste — and as such could be included under an EPR scheme. However, on average, only 45 percent of this product waste (by weight) is currently covered by producer responsibility schemes. This means that, on average, EPR schemes only cover 32.5 percent of total municipal waste, with coverage varying from 14.9 percent in Copenhagen to 47.6 percent in Paris. Furthermore, only 18 percent of product waste is collected separately through an EPR scheme.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of ZWE, said: “The current interpretation of EPR was useful to increase recycling rates in Europe over the last 20 years but it will need updating for it to help move us towards a circular economy. We call on the European Commission to use the upcoming waste package to include incentives to redesign systems and products in order to drive prevention and reuse, foster a serviced-based economy, put recycling as last option and progressively phase out disposal.”
The report makes a series of recommendations to the European Commission, including calling for a broader definition and a more comprehensive approach to producer responsibility that includes the use of economic instruments. The introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements as well as better EPR schemes with full-cost coverage, individualization, targets for separate collection and considering expansion of the current EPR scope to include more products and incentivize reuse.
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The study also finds that existing EPR schemes have been ineffective in driving eco-design, both because of its limited coverage of product waste and the lack of modulation of EPR fees based on eco-design. Zero Waste Europe urges the European Commission to develop minimum European-wide individualization criteria based on eco-design.
Here in the States, a few attempts at enacting EPR schemes include proposed legislation from states including Rhode Island, and the establishment of the Closed Loop Fund, an impact investment fund that makes below-market loans to recycling companies and municipalities for recycling infrastructure, which participating companies expect will substantially increase the amount of packaging materials returned to them for recycling into new packaging. Critics of the Closed Loop Fund call instead for more widely established EPR policies — which hold consumer goods companies financially responsible for the collection of their packaging post-use (rather than having taxpayers and local governments foot the bill) and meeting recycling targets — as have existed in Europe for decades, here in the U.S.