In our current linear economy, more waste is generated than we can handle. With the pace of resource extraction and product manufacturing, we have a seemingly endless stream of waste and pollution that continues to pile up in facilities and the environment. Although many cities and towns have their own forms of waste management, the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been brought forth as a way to ensure producers shoulder more of the burden for waste management.  

The government of British Columbia defines EPR as “an approach to recycling that requires producers, such as manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to take responsibility for the life cycle of the products they sell.” This may be with collection, (curbside or through collection depots), or recycling of the actual packaging and products collected. Although EPR is a relatively newer concept, the BC government notes that producers have already started to employ it, and have in some cases formed groups that operate recycling programs on their behalf. 

Of course, EPR isn’t just taking place in BC; the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also identified the benefits of the concept, defining it as  “a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.” The OECD also describes EPR as something that can be implemented as formal policy, since it has the potential to “provide incentives to prevent wastes at the source, promote product design for the environment and support the achievement of public recycling and materials management goals.” 

The government of Canada has identified EPR as a goal within efforts to combat climate change, and it may continue to grow in popularity as a policy objective. In our article on the controversies with plastics recycling, we pointed out how the concept of responsibility is hotly debated. Many believe those who produce plastic products should take on more when it comes to not just recycling, but improving consumer education by providing accurate information about the recyclability of a product. Not only does EPR target this desire, but it can also encourage producers to better design products to either make them easier to recycle, or even more durable or compostable. 

Of course, EPR goes beyond plastics; every industry has the potential to benefit from taking on more awareness and responsibility for the ultimate life cycle of their products. EPR is a concept that aligns with the circular economy, as it asks producers to innovate and introduce circular strategies into their products, supply chains, and overall impact on consumers and the environment.