The way things work today is this:
A manufacturer creates and markets a product.
When things are working right, the manufacturer is responsible for the waste that comes out of the factory, either through chimneys or sludge or pipes.
But the manufacturer is likely not to be held responsible for much of what happens before and all of what happens after that:
where the packaging goes; how the product is disposed of; the environmental harm or costs of disposal of their products; or the proper education of the seller or consumer regarding the future handling and disposal of the product.
Instead, local governments pick up the tab for disposal; hazardous waste management; green clean up; public education. Without financial incentives or implications for the design and proper disposal of their products, it is no wonder that the manufacturing industry is slow to green their ways.
Enter Extended Producer Responsibility. EPR.
Here is the way it is explained on the Waste to Wealth website:
“Extended producer responsibility (EPR), based on the “polluter pays” principle, entails making manufacturers responsible for the entire lifecycle of the products and packaging they produce. One aim of EPR policies is to internalize the environmental costs of products into their price. Another is to shift the economic burden of managing products that have reached the end of their useful life from local government and taxpayers to product producers and consumers.
The concept of EPR was first formally introduced in Sweden by Thomas Lindhqvist in a 1990 report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment.”
This is the way of the future. Researchers, material scientists, producers, manufacturers even distributors all need to be part of the solution of sustainability. Everyone along the economic food chain is responsible for the environmental impact of the products that they design, manufacture, and sell. That way, real costs can be embedded in the product costs, and consumers will do their part in buying, and disposing of things, responsibly as well.
Check out this short and enlightening explanation of EPR: