Who is responsible for packaging materials lying around in the environment? How can we best curb this dilemma, which seems to be growing by the day? One solution is the principle of EPR, or Extended Producer Responsibility.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines extended producer responsibility (EPR ) as ‘an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility (physical and financial) for a product is extended to the post-consumer state of a product’s life cycle.’ So whoever produces a product is responsible for it until the end. The full life cycle remains the producer’s duty.
In terms of waste management, EPR policy sees the shifting of responsibility upstream towards the producer and away from municipalities. This has been in the spotlight in recent years because it has delivered remarkable results locally and internationally. First pioneered 20 years ago in Europe, EPR for packaging has delivered new innovations in packaging waste management and packaging design that have reduced the environmental impact of packaging and packaged goods.
Cost effective for consumers and society
EPR offers a much more certain future for the entire packaged goods sector. It is cost effective for consumers and society at large, and is the preferred policy tool for industry to drive recovery and recycling packaging rates.
There has been good progress in applying EPR principles effectively in South Africa to date. For the last 10 years PETCO has fulfilled the PET plastic industry’s EPR role by taking responsibility for post-consumer PET recycling in South Africa. Voluntary financial support and commitment from the industry has resulted in the development of national networks for PET collection, sorting and recycling, and placed South Africa on a par, and indeed ahead of, many other countries.
There were recent amendments to the National Environmental Management: Waste Act (Act No. 59 of 2008) and a draft pricing strategy. Also, the Minister of Environmental Affairs has gazetted his notice of intention to require the Paper and Packaging Industry to prepare and submit their industry waste management plan for approval. It is therefore clear that the Department of Environmental Affairs intends to follow the EPR example.
A value chain approach for viable EPR scheme
Now more than ever, this industry needs to collaborate with policy makers, grapple with the true principles of EPR and create a value chain approach that will result in a viable EPR scheme. One that is feasible for the obligated industry, aligns with government’s strategy, does not jeopardise current initiatives, ultimately diverts waste from landfill, creates a viable secondary economy and at the same time creates jobs- at the lowest cost to consumers.
PETCO recently organised an EPR workshop for all industry roleplayers. PETCO operates on a voluntary levy from all the raw material purchases for the manufacturing of PET bottles. This has resulted in 50% of all PET plastic manufactured in SA being recycled. They are aiming for 70% by 2020. This way imports will be limited by extracting raw materials back. It took them ten years to close the loop. Bottle2Bottle recycled PET resin is available in SA today.
The main speaker at this event was Prof. Linda Godfrey from the CSIR, who spoke on “Packaging waste and recycling – South Africa and the global context.” She said that 90% of the waste is still landfilled in South Africa and 49% of packaging ends up in landfills. Waste pickers play an important role in addressing these challenges in SA, which include littering, illegal dumping and low recycling rates, together with no separation at source.
If you’re not responsible your product should be banned
Government is pushing back through policy and legislation. In some countries if you’re not responsible for your product at the end of its life, it is banned. There needs to be charges or incentives through legal frameworks for EPR. This policy approach would force each producer to take his product back at the end of its life. This would shift the responsibility and burden away from government, or municipalities, to producers. This would provide incentives for design for the environment. There are various models of this for paint, batteries, tyres, paper and packaging across the world.
China uses an innovative model for the recycling of electronic waste.
EPR has been in the Waste Act since 2008/9, though as a voluntary action. It has been implemented by a number of sectors, like the Rose Foundation for used oil, PETCO and the Glass Recycling company, etc.
Separation at source is the cornerstone going forward
“Even though the South African recycling industry is fair to good in world terms, we have not created a sustainable recycling industry,” said Prof Godfrey. “We have started off by harvesting the low hanging fruit. Separation at source is the cornerstone going forward. The voluntary system is fragmented.”
The Department of Environmental Affairs is rolling out a policy to drive EPR mechanisation. During 2013 we landfilled 3.67 million tons of waste. At R1100 per ton that accounts for R4 billion.
Brand owner is responsible
So who is the producer who will remain responsible for the product to the end? The brand owner, or filler of the packaging. As they have the ability to change their packaging.
Prof. Godfrey also said that the City of Johannesburg has proven that informal waste collectors reduce crime, and not the other way round, as some people believe.
Twenty elements of the periodic table will run out in the next 20 years, said Godfrey. Hence India has banned multi-layered foils, as it makes it too hard to recycle. Eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans per annum.
9 million tons of food goes to waste every year
CSIR research has shown that over 9 million tonnes of food (177kg/capita), or about 30% of local agricultural production, goes to waste every year in South Africa. The associated cost to society is R61.5 billion per annum, equivalent to 2.1% of South Africa’s GDP. At the same time, 70% of poor urban households in South Africa live in conditions of food insecurity.
The extended producer responsibility model brings hope to the waste industry and we watch this space with bated breath.
- PETCO runs workshops that are relevant and pertinent and they do this to encourage debate, understanding and to share good examples with a view to expanding excellence within the industry.
- Their workshops are free, and they make a big effort to share their knowledge.
- PETCO is a sponsor of Walking the Daisies at Rocking the Daisies, which starts tomorrow, in their effort to reach consumers and encourage on-the-go recycling. #PlasticBottlesAreNotTrash and #RTD2015.
By Elma Pollard