Promoting Extended Producer Responsibility in international law

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Promoting Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in international law for a sustainability transformation towards a circular economy
TES Academy transformation process, June 2023 to March 2024
First workshop 27th – 29th June 2023 (3 days), Dessau-Roßlau, Germany

Production and consumption of material goods are causing severe environmental damage. After reaching end-of-life, these products turn into waste. If not treated properly, they might leak pollutants into the environment - with the loss of precious materials. Also, waste crosses – legally or illegally, intentionally or unintentionally (e.g. in the oceans) – national borders and causes global environmental problems. Since pollution, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, constitutes one of the triple planetary crises, there is an urgent need to find applicable solutions to the waste problem and to develop sustainable waste management systems both at a national and international level.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been increasingly discussed as a concept to solve the current waste problems for specific products. As originally introduced by Swedish scientist Thomas Lindhqvist, it describes “an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased 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 the take-back, recycling, and final disposal”. Proponents of EPR argue that by assigning the organizational responsibility for waste management to a producer, EPR could reduce the financial burden of municipalities and support the internalization of commonly externalized costs associated with waste. As such, EPR might also constitute a transformative framework for a shared responsibility for waste handling between producers and consumers, as the latter might contribute to a sustainable waste mansgement through increased purchasing costs. More generally, EPR is thought to set incentives for developing a more sustainable product design that matches the idea of a circular economy.

While EPR is gaining global popularity, it is not implemented in all countries or across all countries yet. Several reasons hinder a broader implementation of the strategy. In general, setting up EPR schemes requires political, legal, financial, and organizational efforts and poses challenges to the socio-economic system. From a business perspective, for example, EPR might shrink profit margins for companies and increase administrative processes. At the same time, increased product costs could also pose a potential threat to current material living standards. In addition, while establishing a new value chain among collectors, sorters, and recyclers aims at establishing a more sustainable economy, it can also threaten the informal sector. These are only three prominent examples of potential challenges associated with the implementation of EPR at a national and an international level.

In sum, we consider EPR if implemented at a global level, as a powerful strategy to support a transformative change toward a circular economy that contributes to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To advance its national and international implementation, however, it is necessary to sharpen the overall understanding of EPR and develop applicable solutions to the challenges related to EPR. For this purpose, it is also important to understand the economic and social contexts related to specific products (e.g., plastics, batteries, electronic devices) into account in which EPR is implemented.

For further information, please find our concept note here.
Please note: If you want to join the process, please contact tes-academy [at] uba [dot] de.

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