November 11, 2021

Extended Producer Responsibility Laws – Shifting EHS Costs

Posted on November 11, 2021 by Jim Bruen

Extended producer responsibility [“EPR”] laws are intended to place a significant share of the environmental costs of a product on the manufacturer or “producer.”

The concept of EPR laws may have been introduced in a 1990 report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment by Thomas Lindqvist: “[EPR] is an environmental protection strategy to … [decrease the] total environmental impact of a product . . .  by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for . . . take-back, recycling and final disposal.”

In the United States, approximately 40 states have enacted EPR laws since 2008. See, e.g., CA Public Resources Code § 42971 – 72.5 (re. carpet recycling). This summer, states showed an increased interest in EPR legislation with laws passed in Maine (LD1541 – An Act to Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money) and Oregon (SB582 – the Recycling Modernization Act). Similar legislation is being further considered by California (SB54 – the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act), Hawaii (SB1419 – the Municipal Product Stewardship Program Act), Massachusetts (S517, S610, H878 – An Act to Save Commonwealth Recycling Costs), New Jersey (A5680 – Legislation to increase recycled content and recycling rates), New York  (S01185C – the Extended Producer Responsibility Act, see also A05801 re recycling and end-of-life product recovery), Pennsylvania (HB1873 –Legislation providing in part for recycling of covered products) and Vermont (H0142 – An Act Relating to Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Paper Products). Congress is also considering EPR legislation (HR2238 – the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act). For an earlier (2014) perspective on EPR in this blog space, consider this article. Obviously, EPR has continued to gain momentum.

Although most current legislative proposals focus on shifting the costs of recycling or environmentally improved product design to manufacturers, there is no reason that future EPR laws could not likewise shift the true social costs of manufacturing, by requiring each manufacturer to bear most, if not all, of the environmental, and health and safety costs incurred throughout the entire life cycle of each product. The elasticity of the demand for each product would then determine how much of this expense could be passed on to the consumer.