Individual producer responsibility (IPR) has recently become a focal point in public policy discourse in Canada and abroad as a potential alternative to traditional stewardship schemes. The introduction of Ontario’s draft Bill 91 Waste Reduction Act (WRA) has garnered significant attention, and is causing producers of products and packaging (and waste management professionals) to ask what IPR is, and how it differs from “extended producer responsibility” (EPR).
Little is actually understood about what IPR really is, where it fits within the broader framework of EPR, and what it may look like when implemented. Municipalities are especially interested to learn how their curbside recycling and other programs might be impacted as industry “stewards” are assigned full responsibility (and costs) for end-of-life management of discards.
So what is IPR?
Unlike conventional EPR models which discharge a company’s financial obligations through a single compliance scheme (e.g., Stewardship Ontario, Eco Enterprises Quebec, Multi Material British Columbia), IPR makes companies individually responsible (physically and financially) for their products at end-of-life.
The government sets the outcomes and enforces them, while business figures the best way to achieve them.
The thinking is that this approach allows companies in a competitive model to drive innovation and efficiencies through design, take-back logistics and/or processing. Collective recycling schemes can still occur, but participants cannot discharge their responsibilities and must adhere to competition rules. Companies would make decisions based on what is in their best interests.
Depending on the product or type of company, approaches to IPR could vary significantly, including:
• Producer self-managed;
• Contracting with service providers to manage end-of-life products on their behalf;
• Tendering for available processed materials;
• Incentives paid for collection and/or processing of materials.
Though there are few current examples of IPR schemes in a North American context, the adoption of this policy approach is driven by a convergence of municipal and producer interests that reflect a broader movement to promote waste diversion, encourage cost containment, and fully realize the value of waste as a resource. Further to that point, stakeholders from both the public and private sector have criticized existing industry funded organizations (IFOs) for lacking transparency and equitability in determining how recycling systems are financed.
The success of IPR in European jurisdictions (e.g., United King-dom, Germany) has encouraged provincial governments to endorse IPR as the primary vehicle for implementing producer responsibility. Ontario in particular seems poised to embrace IPR in the near future, publishing reports in both 2009 and 2013 that propose that the existing waste diversion framework be significantly modified to promote IPR.
With the above in mind, is IPR an inevitability? Is it even feasible for certain products and packaging types?
Transitioning to IPR
Since Ontario’s proposed WRA was introduced on June 6, 2013, interest in IPR has skyrocketed. Many companies that were considering making the leap to a self-managed stewardship program are now motivated by Bill 91, which takes a firm approach to “make producers responsible for waste derived from their products.”
Some producers frustrated by current IFO stewardship programs are eager to understand the benefits of an IPR program that will restore their control over confidential sales data, service provider contracts and environmental accountability. (Various media reports have left producers wondering if their electronics will be found burned at the side of a river in China.)
While the WRA provides prescriptive details as to how producers will register, report, pay, collect, transport, process and even work with “intermediary” waste reduction service providers there’s still no solid understanding as to how the system will look. Proponents of the IPR model believe industry will provide innovative solutions to manage the waste stream and that infrastructure is in place to collect and process eligible waste. Others are hopeful that producers will remember the true meaning of producer responsibility when designing and manufacturing the product with its end-of-life in mind (known as design for environment or “DfE”).
The transition from IFO to IPR will not come without challenges. The good news is that examples of IPR programs that exist, along with data and lessons learned from failed IFO models; these can provide best practices for future IPR programs.
Some problems experienced by producers in an IFO model will cease. Issues such as “free-riding” producers and orphan waste will be identified in IRP; however, there will likely be a need to address some issues via a collective approach. Future models will likely be a combination of independent and collective producer responsibility programs working simultaneously to achieve a common goal.
Case study: the CWTA
The cell phone program serves as a good example of various schemes working simultaneously to achieve high diversion of cell phones nationally. The CWTA (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association) “Recycle My Cell” program recycles cell phones and other wireless devices and accessories via a variety of collection models. Devices may be dropped off at retail locations (cell phone stores), Recycle My Cell drop off locations, or via mail-back programs.
In this model, various stakeholders are able to identify how materials will be collected. This has led to several creative and effective programs such as Bell’s Blue Box Program and the Rogers’ “Phones-for-Food” program that satisfies recycling targets and also addresses corporate social responsibility obligations (by generating funds that are used for philanthropic initiatives).
Although the Recycle My Cell is a robust program with various members, other collection programs operate locally, provincially and nationally such as Ontario Electronics Stewardship (OES), Green Calgary and the Toronto Zoo (to name a few). (For more on Toronto Zoo programs, see article on page 30.) With the cell phone model it’s evident that competition has had a positive impact with respect to capture rates and diversion. However, to be fair, very little is known about the enforcement of recycling standards by processors and refurbishers.
Taking all this into consideration, producers should be excited at the opportunity to develop programs that can work effectively and efficiently. However, despite their dissatisfaction with the current IFO models, some stakeholders have taken the “better the devil you know” approach and have been reluctant to throw their support behind IPR: retailers have concerns with reporting to yet another quasi-governmental structure; municipalities, who have suffered the most at the hands these policy programs, are concerned they’ll have to negotiate with hundreds of producers; and, producers are concerned about destroying models already in place, and potentially increasing their administrative burden.
These concerns are natural, grounded as they are in the current recycling framework with which we’re familiar. Some in the curren
t model have an interest in preserving it through whatever means, including scare-tactics. It’s important to take a step back when accessing this model. Just because we have done something for many years one way doesn’t mean it’s the right way. IPR offers a way of addressing the many failures in the current framework. It will potentially drive innovation, cost savings and environmental accountability; and, last but not least, it could relieve the need to subsidize the cost of expensive IFOs.
Michael Cant is the Waste Practice Leader at Golder Associates in Whitby, Ontario. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mandy Pereira is the Principal Consultant at PEAR Consulting in Mississauga, Ontario. Contact Mandy at email@example.com
The authors wish to thank Calvin Lakhan of PEAR Consulting for his assistance in preparing this article.