According to the customary relationship between manufacturers and consumers, unless a product proves to be defective, the consumer assumes responsibility for that product from its purchase until the end of its useful life. Once products are discarded, it falls to waste handlers — either local municipalities or private carters — to take responsibility for those discards which are typically classified as municipal solid waste.
This current system does not provide any incentive for manufacturers to design products for ease of reuse, remanufacturing, or recycling. The goal of product stewardship is to make producers responsible for the full life cycle of their products. Product stewardship policies provide manufacturers with an economic incentive to design products that can easily be remanufactured or recycled at the end of their useful life and/or contain less-toxic components. Costs to incorporate such design parameters and establish end-of-life collection programs are internalized in the product’s sale price.
Product stewardship policies, first instituted by Germany in 1991 for packaging, now apply to producers of consumer products and to a significant portion of the packaging industry in most of the world’s industrial nations.
Although there is no national policy regulating product stewardship in the United States, legislation has been enacted at the state level:
- Toxics in Packaging Bill was developed in 1989 to phase out the use and presence of mercury, lead, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium in packaging and packaging components sold or distributed within four years of the date when states enact the legislation. It has been adopted by 18 states, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. To learn more, visit the toxics in packaging clearinghouse .
- Landfill bans in most states bar from landfills various products, such as vehicle batteries, tires, and used motor oil. Some states have expanded their bans to items containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs), such as televisions and computer monitors.
- Tax credits to promote or sustain recycling have been adopted by 25 states. The majority of states apply these credits to equipment used by businesses to collect and process recovered materials. To learn more visit tax incentives on the USEPA’s website.
- Rates and dates packaging legislation requires packaging covered by state law to meet recycling targets within a given year. California and Oregon passed the law in 1991, requiring companies statewide to recycle at least 25 percent of all rigid plastic containers. Companies that fail to achieve this goal within a given year must demonstrate that their own packaging has been reduced by 10 percent, has 25 percent recycled content, or is being reused at least five times.
- Bottle bills require a deposit redemption system for beer and carbonated beverage containers in 10 states, including New York. Some states have expanded the law to include containers for bottled water, fruit juices, iced tea, and sports drinks. To learn more, read about the new york state bottle bill.
back to top | back to product stewardship