Producer responsibility: who should take a lead on waste?

Posted on November 24, 2012 by DrRossH in Plastic Waste News

Producer responsibility: who should take a lead on waste? | Environment Report 2012 | Packaging News | Jobs | Production | Design | Innovation.

We need more EPR that less.  Manufacturers are producing products that are hard to recycle or give the consumer the sense that it is worthless so the consumers throw it away.  What incentive is there for manufacturers to not produce irresponsible packaging?  They focus solely on the manufacturing side of their products, what makes it the more presentable, what is the cheapest method to use, but no consideration is given to how is the product going to be disposed of once it has served its short life?  Why are manufacturers allows to make products that have life times of 100’s of years for a product that has a working life of weeks at best.

We need to think of the whole picture, manufacturers and consumers are not independent entities.  They are linked by the products.   We can think of manufacturers owning the products and the consumers are only borrowing them.  After the consumer has finished with them they need to be returned to the manufacturer.  It is not local councils responsibly to dispose of waste packaging at the rate payers expense. Plus dispose it to where?  Why do we have to let our landfills get filled up with plastic packaging that manufacturers should be recycling?   Why do they get off the responsibility of having to deal with the problem their products are making?   
There has been over the last many decades a concerted effort by industry collectively to not let the issue of their waste be known as a problem.    It was all quietly carted off and dumped in landfills and the public thought there was nothing wrong.  But those times are changing.  Media portrayals of scarcity of resources and landfill space are driving a consumer awareness of there actually is a problem and changes have to be made.    Plastic is not the wonderful product industry has been telling us it is these last 50 years.  It has some severe problems in that it is cheap but lasts virtually forever as far as a human life time is considered.    It suits a manufacturer wanting to make cheap products but is extremely damaging to our natural world.    Manufacturers have been using the same models all this time and are reluctant to change what has worked all through those times.  But change they must and the sooner the better for our recovery of resources, our national security, the attractiveness of our environment, and the health of our environment (and by association us, as we live in the environment).

So how do we get consumers to return the packaging.  Consumers are highly driven by cost first then education second.  A deposit scheme works very efficiently for discrete items like plastic bottles.  Manufacturers ought to be actively participating in these schemes.  Manufacturers ought to be coerced into wanting to use recovered plastic rather than simply using new virgin plastic for their production.  One way to do this put a tax on the use of virgin plastic material but not on the use of recycled material.  This would drive the use of recycled plastic.  It would also create a huge number of jobs as a fully efficient recycling system was put in place.

However would we put a deposit scheme on a candy wrapper, on a straw, on a plastic bag?  Probably n0t manageable.  How then do we get a plastic candy wrapper to be recycled and not dumped into the trash bin?  How can we make the consumer responsible for their actions just like we need to make manufacturers responsible for theirs?     We need education programs funded by both the owners of the product, i.e. the manufacturers and the users of the product i.e. the consumer, paid for by the government (which is consumers via tax). 

There are also some items that are just not necessary to be made from plastic.  ‘Cheap to produce’ is not a good enough reason to make some products.   It worked in the 80s but we are smarter now.  The total cost (manufacture and disposal) has to be considered.  Why do we have plastic straws when paper straws will serve the same job in almost all applications?   Why do grocery stores give out ‘free’ plastic bags when consumers need to be using reusable ones?  If these items were charged for we would see a drastic reduction in their use by consumers.  There are many examples of this in different countries where this has been implemented.   The manufacturers will fight this as they want to maintain sales over anything else, but to maintain this ever getting smaller planet we have to make some changes away from what was done in the past (an unsustainable way of operating) to a newer way to run an economy that is sustainable for both manufacturers and consumers.