California and Oregon Introduce Legislation to Reform Waste Management

An international movement to improve product design by changing how recycling and waste disposal are financed is gaining momentum in North America. The movement, known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) or Product Stewardship, picked up speed as two states recently introduced "framework" EPR legislation and more states are expected to follow suit. Additionally, last week Canada announced a nationwide framework EPR policy.

EPR policies internalize product lifecycle impacts into product prices to generate green jobs and unleash the creativity of businesses to design and provide "cradle to cradle" product management. The framework approach allows one law to establish EPR as policy and gives state government the authority to address multiple products over time. Several provinces in Canada, including British Columbia, already have Framework EPR regulations in place.

February 12: California Product Stewardship Act, AB 283 - Introduced by Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), the bill is based on Framework EPR policy adopted by the California Integrated Waste Management Board in January 2008.February 18: Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility, with a strategy for sustainable packaging as the first priority, released for public comment by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Extended Producer Responsibility Task Group. February 26: Oregon House Bill introduced by the House Environment and Water Committee. The Product Stewardship framework bill names mercury-containing lights and rechargeable batteries as initial product areas, and designates the state Environmental Quality Commission to adopt recommendations to the legislative body for future products. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate.

Local governments have led the push for state framework EPR legislation through Product Stewardship Councils and the adoption of "Joint Framework Principles for Product Stewardship Policy." The Principles were drafted by the Northwest (Washington and Oregon) and California Product Stewardship Councils. More recently the principles were adopted by the Vermont and British Columbia local government Product Stewardship Councils.

"California, Oregon and Canada are trail-blazers in establishing comprehensive EPR legislation," said Bill Sheehan, Executive Director of the Product Policy Institute, which was instrumental in harmonizing the final Framework Principles and starting local government Councils in California, Vermont and Texas. "These laws will relieve the financial burden on local governments of managing difficult and toxic products and will stimulate manufacturers to design better products."

"The primary responsibility should rest with producers," said Heidi Sanborn, Executive Director of the California Product Stewardship Council. "It is far less expensive to design a product and packaging to reduce waste than it is to create expensive end-of-life recycling and disposal systems that are funded by the taxpayers and garbage ratepayers."

"As states and local governments gain experience with stewardship laws for individual products, they are starting to see the advantages of a framework approach to improving the sustainability of a range of products," said Scott Klag of METRO in Portland, Oregon and co-chair of the Northwest Product Stewardship Council.

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