Progress Toward Manufacturer Responsibility for Waste

Zero Waste Humboldt logoFollowing the implementation of China’s stricter regulations regarding the types of recycling it would accept from other countries for processing, most recycling is currently ending up in landfills for lack of an alternate domestic destination.

It will take some time for U.S. communities to develop more local end-use markets for recyclable materials and strengthen the economics of recycling conventional bottles, cans, paper, and plastics. Improving the price-per-ton paid for recycling collection and processing would ensure viability of recycling processing and help clear up current confusion about what is and isn’t recyclable. (A material isn’t actually “recyclable” if there is no market for the material.)

However, the good news is that progress is being made toward addressing manufacturers’ responsibility with regard to wasteful, excessive packaging, and toxic waste materials.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship were first advocated by environmental and consumer groups in the 1980s, but for decades recycling systems took the public spotlight and government resources. These progressive approaches to sustainable materials management are now re-emerging as top priorities. Local governments, consumers, taxpayers, and ratepayers are demanding that manufacturers take responsibility for and bear the costs of their waste. California, Vermont, and Maine are currently the states with the most EPR legislation.

Renewed focus on manufacturer responsibility is being driven by growing concern about e-waste, carpeting, household cleaners, plastic packaging, batteries, and many toxic or difficult to recycle materials. Del Norte County Waste Management Authority Director and California Product Stewardship Council board member Tedd Ward explains, “For the past decade, recycling in California has been expanded primarily through new product stewardship programs. In Del Norte, we now have recycling programs for mercury thermostats, paints and stains, carpeting and carpet padding, mattresses, and household batteries. In a few years, we will be rolling out additional product stewardship programs for pharmaceuticals and home-generated sharps. These new recycling programs are paid for when new products are purchased, and administered by the manufacturers.”

This year, the California legislature has several bills proposing manufacturer responsibility including such industries as carpet waste, household hazardous waste, tobacco, mattress recovery, right to repair, microfiber pollution, and lithium batteries.

What can you do now?

• Have frequent conversations with your store managers to emphasize that you want more convenient take-back and returnable programs, more durable products, and less wasteful packaging.

• Write letters and emails to your local, state, and federal elected officials urging them to support bills that require manufacturer responsibility for waste.

• Write letters to the product brands that you want but don’t buy due to excessive packaging, plastics, and built-in obsolescence. Voting with your purchasing dollar remains a powerful way to change the system.

Email to learn more about alternatives and to join this environmental consumer movement!


To facilitate development of policies, legislation and other initiatives, the Product Stewardship Council clarifies these terms:

• Product stewardship is the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages, while also maximizing economic benefits. The manufacturer, or producer, of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.

• Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the manufacturer’s responsibility for its product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the manufacturer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to manufacturers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.