Product Stewardship in British Columbia
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an idea that makes so much sense — on paper. As a public policy approach, EPR promises to help drive environmental improvements in the design and management of product systems, something end-of-pipe strategies and municipal diversion programs cannot do. But, as the various types of EPR and product stewardship programs across Canada show, putting the idea of EPR into practice can take you down some very different roads.
The road B.C. has taken is characterized by a performance-based, industry-led, full producer responsibility model of EPR that continues to reward.
As of 2007, B.C. has mandatory EPR programs for beverage containers, used oil, oil containers and oil filters, paint, flammable liquids, pesticides, medications, electronic equipment and tires, putting the province out front in terms of the range of products covered. This success story has roots in the B.C. beverage container deposit-refund program started in 1970, and took shape in innovative policy and regulatory initiatives of the 1990s that created most of its existing programs.
2002 was a landmark year for EPR in BC. Under the aegis of a “new era” in environmental protection, the provincial government announced its groundbreaking Product Stewardship Business Plan to guide EPR program review and development going forward. What was new was the articulation of a set of policy principles intended to bring coherence to the ad hoc, piecemeal approach that had characterized the evolution of provincially mandated EPR to date.
Broadly stated, these principle include: responsibility for waste management is shifted from taxpayers to producers/users with no involvement by other levels of government without their consent; a level playing field for brand owners and consumers; results-based program design and measurement; and finally, transparency and accountability.
Regulation and implementation
Translating these ambitious principles into EPR regulation resulted in publication of the B.C. recycling regulation in 2004. This regulation places full responsibility for preparing a stewardship plan and operating a program on the individual producer, but provides the option of a collective approach. Stewardship plan approval is contingent on criteria spelled out in the regulation. For example, the plan must demonstrate how it will meet the prescribed 75 per cent recovery rate, and/or any other measures required by the environment ministry. Producers are responsible for product collection and management, and all associated costs. Finally, producers must show how they will reduce upstream environmental impacts and manage products in accordance with the pollution prevention hierarchy.
With publication of the regulation, producers of existing regulated EPR programs were tasked with aligning their stewardship plans with the new requirements, a process that entailed a flurry of industry-led consultation processes in 2006 and 2007. As of January 2008, approvals have been granted for plans submitted by Product Care (paint, pesticides, and flammable liquids) and the B.C. Post-Consumer Pharmaceutical Stewardship Association. These plans, posted on the ministry website, show, among other things, significant attention paid to the development of program performance measures, a key aspect of the new regulation.
The province has also seen two new product categories — tires and electronics — added to the regulation. The Tire Stewardship BC program, launched in early 2007, shifted the province’s 15-year-old tire recycling initiative to industry. As for electronics, two new programs covering computers and computer peripherals were implemented in 2007, including the long awaited Electronics Stewardship Association of BC program, and the start-up Western Canada Computer Industry Association program.
By the time this article goes to print, the province may have announced the next two products it intends to regulate in the coming months, finishing a process initiated in 2007. And there’s no end in sight, as they’re promising to bring two new products into the EPR regulatory framework every three years going forward.
The road ahead
With these ambitious plans in mind, the road ahead portends many interesting policy challenges (and opportunities, too) to improve B.C.’s model of performance-based, industry-led, full producer responsibility. For example, emphasis is placed on a performance-based approach, but the challenges of monitoring and enforcing recovery rate requirements, consumer awareness and consumer access commitments, among other things, need to be addressed. And more could be done to strengthen or support those provisions in the regulation that speak directly to pollution prevention and waste minimization.
Sustainability is more of a journey than a destination. BC’s journey with EPR has come a long way and accomplished a lot, but there is more to be done. The journey continues.
Karen Asp, MA, is a Senior Environmental Planner with Gartner Lee Limited in Vancouver, B.C. Contact Karen at email@example.com