Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a Key Green ICT Tool

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is emerging as an important mechanism to ensure more sustainable ICT gear. Here is a review of what EPR is and who is implementing it.

The EPR Working Group* offered this definition:

"Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy tool that extends manufacturer's [sic] responsibilities beyond their current accountabilities -- for worker health & safety, consumer safety, and production costs -- to also include responsibility for life cycle costs of their products and associated packaging. Essential to EPR is its mandate for producers to ‘take back' their end-of-life products and create closed looped systems that prevent pollution and the inefficient use of resources. By promoting a ‘cradle to cradle’ responsibility, EPR enforces a design strategy that takes into account the upstream environmental impacts inherent in the selection, mining and extraction of materials, the health and environmental impacts to workers and surrounding communities during the production process itself, and downstream impacts during use, recycling and disposal of the products. The ultimate goal of EPR is to encourage cleaner, safer materials and production processes, as well as to eliminate waste at each stage of the product’s life cycle."

The European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) implements EPR concepts. A EU press release explains, "The directive is based on producer responsibility and the polluter pays principle as enshrined in the [EU] Treaty. The producers of equipment used by private households are responsible for providing financing for the collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally-sound disposal of WEEE deposited at collection facilities. Producers of equipment used by others than private households are financially responsible for the costs of collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally-sound disposal." That last sentence is key, because it includes enterprise/government e-gear.

The United States does not have a national EPR law. The Product Stewardship Institute identified as of August 2013 24 U.S. states with some sort of electronics EPR law. Most are focused consumer electronics.

Some electronics manufacturers have voluntary programs. Xerox, for example, has a Waste Free Factory initiative on the front end and take-back programs for gear and packaging on the back end. "Since 1991, Xerox remanufacturing and recycling has prevented over 2 billion pounds of potential waste from entering landfills."

Note that much of the focus is on waste. There is less focus on responsibilities such as "selection, mining and extraction of materials." Click here for an overview of these issues.

Please let us know about other jurisdictions with EPR laws or ICT manufacturers with EPR practices.

* EPR Working Group was a US/Canada initiative which is apparently now inactive.