Introduction to extended producer responsibility

What is extended producer responsibility?

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility, physical and/or financial, for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. EPR shifts responsibility upstream in the product life cycle to the producer (i.e. brand owners, first importers or manufacturers) and away from municipalities and general taxpayers.

EPR programs are commonly made mandatory through legislation, but can also be adopted voluntarily (i.e. retail take-back programs) or even take the form of negotiated agreements between governments and industry. Legislated EPR programs are often adopted by jurisdictions when a designated waste stream is too costly or not profitable enough for producers or recyclers to voluntarily recover at the end of its useful life. Governments may adopt producer responsibility to achieve a greater recovery of secondary materials or as a means to divert materials from disposal. Legislated producer responsibility programs reflect the “polluter-pays-principle,” since producers are made responsible for the waste management costs of their products.

To date, the concept of EPR has been used to ensure the proper end-of-life management of a broad and growing range of post-consumer products such as batteries, electronic equipment, ozone-depleting substances, paints, pesticide containers, pharmaceuticals, used oil, and used tires. Since its inception in Europe in the early 1990s, EPR and product stewardship initiatives have gained popularity rapidly, with programs in place throughout Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, the United States and Canada.

What does extended producer responsibility involve?

Many products such as electronics, appliances, paint and engine oil need to be properly managed at the end of their useful life. Under the terms of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program, collection is a responsibility of the producer and collection sites are established allowing for the recovery of end-of-life products. Consumers can then return their products at the designated collection sites, after which the product will be recycled or properly disposed of.

In order to create a harmonized approach to EPR, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) has prepared a Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility with common coordinated policies and commitments for government action and common key elements for building producer responsibility for priority products. Many provinces already have a number of EPR programs up and running and many more will become operational in the coming years. For a list of EPR programs in Canada, see the Recycling program inventory.

What are the benefits of extended producer responsibility?

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) supports waste reduction, reuse and recycling activities, and reduces the burden on municipalities for the physical and/or financial requirements of waste management by providing a non-tax base funding for the programs. Considering that municipalities have limited ability to affect the generation of waste, EPR as a concept aims to shift waste management costs onto producers, who have the ability to incorporate changes in product and packaging design to reduce waste.

Who does what?

In cases where responsibility is assigned to individual producers, the regulated producers proceed to either collect the end-of-life products through their own private schemes or to form a collective organization, also referred to as a producer responsibility organization (PRO). Commonly, a PRO is designated by producers or through legislation, after which the organization becomes responsible for meeting the recovery and recycling obligations of the individual producers.

The PRO arranges for the collection, transportation, and environmentally sound recycling or disposal of end-of-life products at different collection sites across the jurisdiction. Municipalities may participate in the collection of end-of-life products as a service provider. Consumers participate in the programs by returning the end-of-life products to the designated collection sites and in some cases, by providing funding through a unit-fee charged at the point of sale that is collected by the PRO.

In Canada, some of the extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs use a visible fee at the point of sale while others are integrated into the price of the product - depending on the product and the province. Government involvement may range from the development of regulations, performance standards, developing and implementing monitoring protocols and enforcing the regulations.

At the federal level, Environment Canada has identified EPR as a risk management option for products containing substances that are considered toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). EPR can reduce the risks associated with the disposal of products containing toxic substances by promoting environmentally sound end-of-life management.

Who do I contact if I have any questions?

Please visit the Recycling program inventory for links to extended producer responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship programs in Canada.

Glossary of terms

Deposit/refund systems require consumers to pay a monetary deposit for a purchased product which is partially or fully reimbursed when the product is returned for re-use or recycling at the end-of-life. Some programs in Canada also use a discretionary recycling fee, charged by industry stewards at the point of sale, in addition to the deposit.
Environmental fees
In order to fund legislated extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, affected producers (brand-owners, manufacturers or first importers) may charge consumers an "environmental fee", visible on receipts and invoices. The fee may be designated as an “eco-fee”, an “environmental handling charge or fee”, a “recycling fee” or a “surcharge”, depending on the region and program. In the case of legislated EPR programs, fees are commonly managed by not-for-profit organizations or industry associations, whereas under product stewardship initiatives, these are managed by government agencies. Governments may approve the fees through the stewardship plan or may set the fees for product stewardship programs. Legislated EPR and product stewardship programs are usually required (i.e. via regulation and/or government approved stewardship plans) to submit annual statements of program revenues and expenditures to governments. These may be available on the program websites or on request.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR)
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility, physical and/or financial, for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle.
Industry stewards
Commonly refers to brand owners, first importers and manufacturers of designated materials under extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, destined for collection and reuse, recycling or environmentally sound management.
The term “producer” is used to refer to brand owners, first importers and manufacturers of products and packaging. “Producers” are referred to as “industry stewards” when they are legally obligated to recover and recycle their products and/or packaging at end-of-life.
Producer responsibility organization (PRO)
A “producer responsibility organization” (PRO), usually a not-for-profit organization or an industry association, is the entity designated by a producer or producers to act on their behalf to administer an extended producer responsibility or product stewardship program. In Canada, a PRO may also be referred to as a “stewardship organization,” an “industry funding organization” or a “delegated administrative organization”.
Product stewardship
Product stewardship initiatives are end-of-life management programs for designated products, in which producers (i.e. brand owners, importers or manufacturers) are neither directly responsible for program funding or operations. Programs may be financed through public funds or through revenues generated by legislated fees at the point of sale.
Shared responsibility
Programs identified as “shared responsibility” are in part industry funded and/or operated. These programs are often the result of an agreement, partnership or in some cases industry stewards may be designated by law to provide funding for a specific program (e.g. multi-material stewardship programs - blue box - in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec).
Stewardship or program plan
A “stewardship plan” or “program plan” sets out how designated producers will meet their legal obligations to collect and recycle their products or packaging once they have reached their end-of-life. Generally, stewardship plans may include details on how end-of-life products or packaging are to be collected and recycled, how program performance will be measured, targets for collection, reuse (where applicable), recycling and public awareness, timelines for implementation, program funding and reporting protocols. Producers are commonly responsible for preparing their own individual stewardship plans or can join a collective stewardship program under a “producer responsibility organization”.

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