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Question and answers on Individual Producer Responsibility

Background - 15 October, 2008
Electronic waste is a global threat, as worldwide million tons of e-waste are created and all this waste contains large amounts of toxic chemicals. To solve this problem Greenpeace demands electronics producers to bear the individual financial responsibility for their own-branded discarded products. If producers have to pay for the collection and recycling of all their discarded products, they have an incentive to stop using toxic materials in the design of their products and make them more durable and recyclable in order to lower the recycling costs.The European law on recycling e-waste makes producers individually responsible for the financing of their own e-waste. Progressive and environmentally responsible companies support this. Some regressive companies like Philips are lobbying against IPR in favour of CPR.

Frequently asked Questions on Individual Producer Responsibility versus Collective Producer Responsibility

1. What is 'Individual Producer Responsibility' (IPR) versus Collective Producer Responsibility (CPR)?

Individual producer responsibility (IPR) requires that each producer bears the recycling cost of its own products. This does not require every producer to collect its own products. It does require recycling systems that can differentiate the real costs of recycling one producers' e-waste from the costs of another producers e-waste, after the waste is collected.

In such a system every producer is paying the bill of the collection and recycling of its own products. The producer can pass these costs on to the consumer. But Individual Producer Responsibility ensures that any recycling costs the producers pass on through `recycling fees´ to consumers reflect, as closely as possible, the real costs of recycling that product.

Collective producer responsibility (CPR) allows producers to divide up and share in a more arbitrary way the costs of recycling their products. All electronic waste from all producers is collected and recycled and the producers receive one bill, of which they all pay a part. The division of the costs is often done based on the current market share of the producers, and not on the amount of waste collected of each brand, or the recyclability of that waste. When these costs are passed on to the consumer this does not reflect the real costs of recycling the product the consumer bought. The consumer thus pays a distorted cost.

2. Why is IPR better than CPR?

Two main reasons:

  • When producers pay for the real costs of recycling their own products (IPR) they have a financial incentive to stop using toxic materials in the design of their products and make them more durable and recyclable in order to lower the recycling costs. 
  • The arbitrary approach to sharing the recycling costs of CPR means that it is not necessary for the recycling system to differentiate the real costs of recycling one producers e-waste from other producers e-waste. Thus when a producer passes these costs on to the final consumer by a 'recycling fee' these costs are distorted. As a result of this when you buy a Samsung TV you may pay for not only recycling your Samsung TV but also for recycling part of a Philips one. IPR evolves the system to solve this problem and ensures the costs consumers pay reflect as much as possible the real costs and is thus fairer.   

3. What do we mean by the recycling fee (and the visible fee) in this context?

The term recycling fee, or visible fee, in this context refers to the cost of the collection and recycling (or other treatment) that the product will incur when it becomes waste at the end of its useful life. This cost should be embedded as part of the price of the product (as are all the other costs of manufacturing, transport etc). In other words the costs should be 'internalised' into the producers financial decision making process.

There has been a tendency in the past to declare the recycling costs at the point of purchase ie making it a 'visible fee' that is declared separately to the product price. Greenpeace prefers for the fee or costs charged on new products to not be made visible to avoid it becoming a fixed or `flat´(ie the same amount charged, usually per product category, for every producers product). When a visible fee is applied it is often fixed or 'flattened' to simplify the communication with the retailers or simply to avoid competition on the real recycling costs between producers. If consumers pay a fixed fee for a TV or a computer, then there is no differentiation of costs between products that contain more or less toxic or unrecyclable materials, or between products with a different lifespan. This way the consumer does not pay the real recycling costs and the producer does not get an incentive to design more environmental friendly products.

4. What is the difference between collective recycling systems and collective producer (financial) responsibility?

A collective recycling system is a system where several producers - in order to get their products recycled - share the same recycling infrastructure (eg collection points, transport and dismantling and other pre-recycling treatment plants and facilities). This is collective use of the same physical recycling infrastructure.

Collective producer financial responsibility means that the producers don't just share the same physical recycling infrastructure but that they also pay for the waste in a collective way. This means that the costs of recycling the e-waste of all producers is often presented to the producers on one bill. The producers then split the bill, often based on their current market share, not based on the amounts of e-waste collected by brand or based on the recyclability of their products.

5. Can you have individual financial responsibility in a collective recycling system?

It is possible to have a collective recycling system, whereby you share the same physical infrastructure and still pay for your own e-waste's real costs. You do not - as some producers argue - have to have your own (individual/own-brand) physical recycling system to be able to pay for the real costs of recycling your own products. You only need to differentiate between the products of different producers after the e-waste is collected.

Some producers also want an individual collection system, by collecting their own discarded products. They should be free to do so long as their system respects high levels of environmental protection, ensures transparency and shares fairly the responsibility to achieve the objectives of high collection, reuse and recycling.

6. What about the different roles of consumers, retailers, governments and producers - isn't this shared or collective responsibility?

Consumers, retailers, governments and producers all have different roles to play in the take-back and recycling system. They share the responsibility to achieve an objective eg the products are recycled by undertaking certain actions (roles). But these practical responsibilities or requirements are different from the overall legal and financial responsibility laid on the shoulders of the producers. It is the producer who has to pay for the overall costs of take-back and recycling of the products.

Roles of the actors can be for example : consumers can be required to separate the e-waste from other waste, retailers can be obliged to take-back discarded products, local government can be required to provide access to e-waste it has collected in its municipal systems, the national government has to enforce the producer responsibility law. and all recyclers should be obliged to report the amount of waste they recycle, and what happens with the recycled fractions.

These roles and responsibilities can also be defined by law, and essentially shared, but they are not collective. In this whole system of shared roles it is the final responsibility of the producers however to pay for all the costs - either collectively or individually as described above.