Extended Producer Responsibility

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a broad category of recycling program options that, in general, shift the financial burden for municipal recycling away from municipalities and to private entities in the manufacturing or retail stream. The programs vary in their particulars, but they typically incorporate:

  • A fee structure assessed against end consumer products in the recycling bin (aluminum cans, plastic bottles, paper, etc.)
  • Goals and metrics to measure program impact.
  • Objectives for increasing recycling (generally collection) rates.

Many states are assessing, or are expected to assess, EPR programs. Given the variability between programs, the aluminum industry does not have a formal position on EPR. However, the industry does encourage municipalities to take the following issues into account when considering such programs.

Not all materials in the recycling stream are created equal: Aluminum is a unique product in the recycling bin because it is low in weight but high in value. In fact, according to a 2014 study by Recycling Reinvented, aluminum is by far the most valuable material in the bin – effectively subsidizing materials like glass and plastic that often lose money for municipal recycling programs.

  1. EPR programs should incentivize increased recycling of more valuable materials in the recycling stream.

Metrics should be carefully thought-through: EPR program goals and metrics should be carefully developed to ensure positive outcomes. Issues like material value, availability of markets for materials and product weight and processing cost should all be considered. Programs with unsophisticated goals and metrics may have a negative impact on aluminum recycling due to its unique weight and value characteristics compared to other materials.

  1. Recycling goals should be material-specific (separate goals for each material), and care should be taken to ensure that each material goal is comparable to those of competing materials.
  2. Metrics should be more sophisticated than gross-weight measurements.

Beware of unintended consequences: In virtually every jurisdiction where EPR has been implemented it has had an impact – either positive or negative – on existing programs. Careful cost/benefit analysis should be undertaken before considering implementation of EPR to mitigate unintended negative outcomes on overall recycling efforts in a community.

  1. The overarching goal for any EPR program should be an increase in both the quantity and quality of collection and recycling.
  2. When considering EPR programs, policymakers should work to ensure that changes do not have negative impacts on existing recycling programs.

The aluminum industry will continue to work with policymakers, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders on smart policy that recognizes the unique characteristics and value of our metal in the recycling stream.

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