How do we compel producers to ‘design the waste out’ of the products we use every day?
In recent months, consumer habits have shifted considerably as society has continued to grapple with COVID-19. More people are shopping online and use of single-use plastics, disposable personal protective equipment and surface wipes is on the rise.
Despite these developments, actions to address plastic pollution are still gaining momentum.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs continue to play a critical role in meeting this challenge and in enabling the emergence of the circular economy. When producers are responsible for the full lifecycle of their products under a cross-Canada harmonized program, it will help keep raw materials circulating thereby reducing the need for virgin resources, while creating reliable supply for recyclers and manufacturers.
Ban or Redesign?
Earlier in October, the Government of Canada announced its next steps toward a comprehensive ban of single use plastics by targeting plastic items like cutlery, straws, stir sticks, bags and six-pack ring, which have viable alternatives.
But what about products without such alternatives?
John D. Coyne, Chair of Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance Inc., makes the case that harmonized EPR programs can push producers to redesign their products:
“[We] need a systemic solution that challenges the very notion of waste – a system where producers are incented to design modern products and packaging suited to the circular economy – where the green and sustainable choice and decision is always the cheaper solution.
A system in which we no longer rely on the same level of extraction of virgin resources but instead work to maximize the use and value of materials already in circulation thereby constraining the consumption of resources to within the earth’s limits. This can only take place within a circular system where waste becomes obsolete and we no longer deliberately design products for obsolescence.”
EPR programs require producers to retain responsibility for their products and materials from design through to disposal, thereby encouraging producers to design more durable, reusable and recyclable products. It also establishes robust supply chains that recyclers and producers can rely on for post-consumer input material.
“The notion that products can be ‘designed for obsolescence’ needs to go the way of the coal fired power plant. Durability, reusability, recyclability, reparability need to become the hallmarks of the design stage of our products and packaging.
Therefore, we need governments at all levels to work with us to develop a robust and practical set of rules that drive circularity while respecting jurisdictional responsibilities and while keeping consumer costs down.”
Build Back Better – Don’t Screw It Up
It is time to seize the opportunity to create a sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19. ‘Build Back Better’ has become a rallying cry, recognizing that we stand at a crossroads between business-as-usual or a more resilient, equitable and sustainable future.
The circular economy holds great promise, as it creates economic opportunities, restores the environment and fosters an ethos that aligns with equity and social justice. Extended producer responsibility programs can be a critical part of this transition, and careful thought must be given to ensure they are implemented consistently across all of Canada.
“We can and should learn from the events of 2020, and make 2021 a watershed year for a green recovery that is not only regenerative by nature but circular by design.”
This post is sponsored by Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance Inc.