Defining EPR

There are many definitions of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). In January 2008, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB or Board), now called CalRecycle adopted the revised EPR Framework now used by CalRecycle, which defines EPR as:

"Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is the extension of the responsibility of producers, and all entities involved in the product chain, to reduce the cradle-to-cradle impacts of a product and its packaging; the primary responsibility lies with the producer, or brand owner, who makes design and marketing decisions."

This definition recognizes a shared responsibility, but one that lies primarily with the producer. The reference to the product chain not only includes producers, but also includes retailers, haulers, consumers, recyclers, and local governments. EPR focuses on enhancing environmental benefits through improved product design for reduction and reuse, and increased collection and recycling where needed, without transferring end-of-life management problems elsewhere.


For several years CalRecycle has supported product stewardship, or, as it is also identified, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Examples of efforts the Board has been involved with in its pursuit of EPR include:

In 2009 CalRecycle set the stage for a broader emphasis by adopting a set of Strategic Directives which includes Strategic Directive 5: Producer Responsibility, which states it is a core value of CalRecycle that producers assume the responsibility for the safe stewardship of their materials in order to promote environmental sustainability. Strategic Directive 5.2 goes on to direct staff to seek statutory authority to foster "cradle-to-cradle" producer responsibility and develop producer-financed and producer-managed systems for product discards.

As a means to implement Strategic Directive 5, CalRecycle, in September 2007, adopted an EPR Framework to guide proposals that seek statutory changes that would allow the Board and other stakeholders to implement EPR in California. A primary benefit of implementing EPR in California under the EPR Framework is the ability to implement several product-specific stewardship requirements in a consistent, comprehensive, and systematic manner, while at the same time offering needed flexibility through stakeholder-generated product stewardship plans developed through a regulated process. This also marks a shift beyond programs that are only based on voluntary stakeholder participation and ensures a level playing field for all regulated entities.


There is no single way in which to implement EPR. In fact, there are many variations, or degrees, of EPR being implemented throughout the world. The overall approach may be voluntary or mandatory in nature. Producers may assume full physical and financial responsibility, or they may share responsibility with stakeholders including local government, or they may have a reduced responsibility to the point that a program is no longer considered an EPR program. For example, if a program is primarily designed and managed by government, including its financing, then it is not considered an EPR program.

Some systems utilize public/private partnerships. Funding mechanisms can range from advance disposal/recycling fees to deposits and, though less common, taxes. The table below describes various approaches, which may be identified in statute, regulation, or in a producer's stewardship plan. For example, statute may require financing, but allow the financing mechanism to be defined in the producer's stewardship plan.

Example EPR and Stewardship Approaches
Type of EPR or Stewardship ApproachExamples
Product take-back programs
  • Mandatory take-back.
  • Voluntary or negotiated take-back programs.
Procurement/consumer programs
  • Procurement guidelines and policies.
  • Information disclosure programs.
  • Product specification that require certain environmental performance standards.
Regulatory approaches
  • Prohibitions of certain hazardous materials or products.
  • Disposal bans.
  • Mandated recycling.
Voluntary industry practices
  • Voluntary codes of practice.
  • Public/private partnerships.
  • Leasing and "servicing" (in which companies as diverse as photocopy manufacturers to carpet manufacturers lease their products or provide services, thereby retaining ownership of the product, including responsibility for its end-of-life disposal).
Economic instruments
  • Product charges.
  • Advance recycling/disposal fees.
  • Deposit/refund schemes.
  • Subsidies and tax credits for the production and use of environmentally preferable products.
  • Differential fees based on a product's health and environmental impacts.

Source: Adapted from Environment Canada, "Approaches to EPR and Stewardship", accessed May 19, 2008.


The items below provide a brief list of some of the benefits that can be realized by implementing EPR in California. This list is not meant to be exhaustive nor are the items listed in any particular order.

  • Provides long-term cost savings to state and local governments and general taxpayers as end-of-life management costs are shifted to the producers and others in the product chain.
  • Reduces subsidies to producers whose products have expensive end-of-life management costs.
  • Offers long-term cost savings as market forces create incentives for producers to remove toxic substances from products and implement practices that reduce end-of-life costs.
  • Provides a consistent, easy-to-predict system for producers, rather than piece-meal legislation.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions through increased use of recycled materials that have lower embodied energy than virgin materials.
  • Contributes to policy objectives of cradle-to-cradle materials management and zero waste.

EPR Programs

Information on local, state, and international EPR programs can be found at CalRecycle's Policy and Law web page.

Individual versus Collective Producer Responsibility Programs

Companies that implement individual producer responsibility programs design, finance, and operate their programs for their own product(s), generally contracting out for services as needed. In collective producer responsibility programs, products from many producers are managed together. Collective programs may allow for more efficient collection, but can serve as a deterrent to environmentally-preferable or green design, if the programs charge the same fee to all products. For example, the green design incentive is removed when a producer that has a non-toxic alternative for its product, pays the same fee as a producer that utilizes toxic components.

A producer is more likely to make environmentally-preferable design changes when that producer is able to realize the financial benefits of doing so. Therefore, individual producer responsibility programs, and collective producer responsibility programs that utilize a range of fees that are associated with a product's environmental impact, provide a direct incentive for green design because efforts to lower material recovery costs can directly benefit the producer.

Examples of Voluntary Individual Producer Responsibility Programs

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