Extended Producer Responsibility – Communication is Everything
As with most things in life – good communication is the secret to success. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is no different.
Good communication can mean the difference between confident, motivated consumers, and consumers who are disinterested and frustrated. The latter can make or break an EPR scheme.
We know that EPR sets requirements for consumer product companies to collect and recycle their own packaging waste. Makes sense. But while EPR shifts the responsibility away from us (the consumer) and onto the people who create the waste, we still have a part to play, and for us to play that part, we need be informed on things like how our local recycling plants work, what we can and can’t throw into our bins, and what all of this means for the environment and reaching our sustainability goals.
Why We (the Consumers) Need to Stay Informed
Even if we are highly motivated to recycle, there can still be instances when we are unsure what to do with a particular item of waste. Recycling can be complicated, and we often hear conflicting information on what can and can’t be recycled. That’s why we need information on the complexities of our local recycling infrastructures, which vary significantly from region to region. It’s why we need information on different material types, not only so that we can recycle properly, but also so that we can make well-informed purchasing decisions (choosing more sustainably packaged products over others).
A well-designed EPR scheme should facilitate consumer participation.
An EPR scheme should also keep in mind that some consumers may not know all that much about why and how to recycle. They may not feel motivated to recycle at all. A communication strategy should be developed with a wide range of personalities and behaviors in mind.
The Role of EPR Schemes in Keeping us Informed
There are several tools and strategies to help us begin to see packaging waste as a valuable resource that, when effectively managed, can be turned into new products. Tools that can help steer us in the right direction when it comes to the proper disposal and sorting of waste.
1. First up: Education and outreach programs to make people aware of how their local recycling systems work, as well as the environmental benefits of recycling. Clear and consistent information is an important way to ensure that everyone participates.
2. Educational material for schools can give young people a more entertaining way of learning about recycling and its positive effects on the environment.
3. Whenever an EPR scheme evolves (usually when there are changes to the types of materials used, or the type of technology used), it should be communicated so that the consumer can stay up to date with all the relevant information.
A Successful Example
A successful consumer awareness initiative in Germany, Mülltrennung wirkt (translation: waste separation works), was funded by an alliance of packaging Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) to align on coordinated communication and cost sharing. Find out more about that, here.
Most material from packaging ends up getting burned, buried, or littered into the environment rather than recycled and reused for new products.
EPR can help make sure that these materials are effectively and efficiently reused, recycled, and disposed of in a sustainable way. But we all need to play our part. Communication should be part of an EPR scheme, and we should all take responsibility to stay informed and engaged.
If you’re interested in learning more about EPR, TOMRA has a whole resource hub (podcasts, whitepapers, etc.) dedicated to it. Check it out.