A movement to shift responsibility for spent products and packaging from taxpayers to the producers who design, make and sell them is growing both among leading corporations and state and local governments in the United States. Dozens of new industry programs and state laws to reduce the life cycle impacts of products and packaging have been initiated or adopted in the last decade.
The terms, “product stewardship” and “extended producer responsibility” have been used in various ways to describe these activities.
To allow for healthy public discussion, three leading organizations in the product stewardship field recently agreed on a consistent set of definitions. The Product Stewardship Institute, the Product Policy Institute, and the California Product Stewardship Council spent over a year harmonizing concepts and soliciting input from stakeholders from business, government, and public interest organizations across North America. The resulting definitions are consistent with international definitions, but also reflect the progress that has been made in the past decade since the product stewardship movement took off in the U.S. The definitions have been endorsed so far by 48 businesses, stewardship organizations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations and are posted on the websites listed below.
The new definitions replace previous definitions used in the United States over the past decade. Please use these official definitions in any future coverage of these issues:
Product Stewardship is the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages. The producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer’s responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.