Product Stewardship

Puzzle Pieces HandsWhen Full Circle started in 1993, the term extended producer responsibility (EPR) had been coined just three years earlier by Thomas Lindhqvist in his report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. Meanwhile back in the United States, expanding recycling was all the rage in State houses across the country—but it was typically at taxpayer expense.

In the ensuing two decades, EPR and the broader framework of product stewardship have expanded globally. Policy implementation is providing clear evidence of product stewardship’s ability to help achieve expanded materials recovery, create structures for equitable financing, and contribute toward improved design for the environment.

Though the idea of “polluter pays” emerged in the U.S. during the early 1970’s environmental movement, the notion of businesses taking responsibility has been inexorably emerging in the United States for a century.

Baseline regulations governing occupational safety and health emerged from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, and U.S. industry went on to innovate and compete against each other in developing some of the safest workplaces in the industrialized world.

When the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Ohio in 1969, regulations were passed to level the playing field. Again industry competed to protect the environment while maintaining profits and a new industry of environmental protection technology was born. The realm of consumer-product safety put similar competitive demands on the auto industry with the publication of Ralph Nadar’s Unsafe at Any Speed.

In each instance, formerly externalized costs—paid for by society at large or by individuals or by our ecosystem—were shifted to become part the expected cost of doing business, ultimately paid for through the producer-consumer relationship.

Why should products be treated any differently?

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