Extended Producer responsibility (EPR) is a governmental policy and a Swedish law that aims to better waste management and collection. The Swedish system shifts the waste management cost or physical collection fully from local governments to producers. The policy applies to different goods such as packaging, newsprint, electronic products, batteries, tires, end-of-life vehicles, pharmaceutical waste, stray radioactive products and radioactive sources.
The principal approach of this framework, which was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1993, is that the environmental responsibility for a product lies with the producer. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is based on the polluter pays principle. The concept entails that the party responsible for the pollution is responsible for paying for the damage done.
The purpose of EPR is to shift the responsibility for the waste away from the municipality to the producer and provide incentives for producers to incorporate environmental considerations in the design of their product with the end of life in mind and take a “cradle to cradle” approach to product life cycles. EPR places the responsibility for the proper end-of-life management of the waste products on the individual producers. In reality, however, producers work collectively to exert this responsibility by setting up Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs).
Depending on the product group, the EPR schemes are financed by:
• product fees that are added onto the retail price; and/or
• income from the sale of the recycled material.
These economic transactions are administrated by individual PROs. A unified responsibility for the collection, treatment and the full economic responsibility gives the producers full accountability and should provide incentives to minimise the environmental impact of their products. This is one of the major reasons for choosing this model for EPRs.
Packaging waste and newsprint
Packaging waste and newsprint were the first product groups to be covered by an EPR. The purpose was mainly to relieve the municipalities of the responsibility (and cost) for the collection and treatment of the waste as well as creating incentives to reduce the environmental impact of these products. In the early 90s, the idea of a circular system where waste was viewed as a resource, rather than just waste to be disposed of, was starting to take hold in society. The EPR for packaging waste and newsprint was established in 1994 following the EU-directive, but products and materials with a high economic value, such as newsprint, glass packaging and end-of-life vehicles had already been collected for many years. The driving force was mainly economic. Collecting waste products and recycling these were less resource demanding and more profitable than making new products from virgin materials.
Deposit systems for PET bottles and cans
Packaging waste consisting of drinking bottles and cans are exempt from the packaging ordinance and are instead covered by an ordinance for a return system for PET-bottles and metal cans. The collection system for this material differs from the other types of EPRs in that the consumer pays a deposit at purchase and receives a cashback on the return of the product.
Glass packaging was the first product group to have an organised collection. Sweden has a long tradition of glass production and in 1986, the organisation Svensk Glasåtervinning (Eng: Swedish Glass Recycling) was established by two of the major producers, as well as several municipalities. The municipalities had an interest in a separate collection of glass to improve the health and safety of the waste collectors, who were at risk of getting cuts from broken glass in the garbage bags. A system of special bins for glass was implemented and placed at strategic locations, such as outside shops and parking lots. These locations later became the foundation in the system of green recycling stations, adopted by the packaging and newsprint PRO.
Electric and electronic waste
In the 90s, many municipalities had a separate collection of electronic waste and organised manual disassembling, providing people far from the regular labour market a job. When the recycling industry got interested in the economic value of the electronic waste, they started industrial-scale recycling and the municipalities sent the collected electrical waste to them. This means that when the EPR was implemented in 1994, there was already an existing collection system in place as well a market for recycling the products.
The success factors
• Trust and cooperation
– A high level of trust between the individual producers and trade associations, and a willingness to fulfill their respective obligations.
– Structured communication towards the households and a high level of trust in the system has created a willingness for households to participate in collection schemes.
– Close cooperation between municipalities and producer organisations.
• Matching the supply and demand
– Good quality of the waste streams, for example, separate collection of coloured and clear glass or newsprint and paper packaging. This creates a high quality of recycled materials with market demand.
– A demand for the recycled material and/or capability to process the collected material, for example, paper, glass and steel industry.
• Ambitious policy targets
• The industry has a full operational and financial responsibility for collection, sorting and recycling.
• The PROs are not-for-profit companies.
Some actors in collaboration are:
Förpacknings-och Tidningsinsamlingen (FTI) AB, TMResponsibility AB, Returpack Svenska AB, Svensk GlasÅtervinning AB, Svenska Retursystem AB, El-kretsen i Sverige AB (Electrical Waste Association) & Recipo Ekonomisk förening