Product stewardship

Product stewardship

Product stewardship is a concept whereby environmental protection centers around the product itself, and everyone involved in the lifespan of the product is called upon to take up responsibility to reduce its environmental impact. [ [http://www.epa.gov/epr/ The United States Environment Protection Agency] ] For manufacturers, this includes planning for, and if necessary, paying for the recycling or disposal of the product at the end of its useful life. This may be achieved, in part, by redesigning products to use fewer harmful substances, to be more durable, reuseable and recycleable, and to make products from recycled materials. [ [http://www.the-ncec.com/productstewardship/intro The National Chemical Emergency Centre] ] For retailers and consumers, this means taking an active role in ensuring the proper disposal or recycling of an end-of-life product.

Those who advocate it are concerned with the later phases of product lifecycle and the comprehensive outcome of the whole production process. It is considered a pre-requisite to a strict service economy interpretation of (fictional, national, legal) "commodity" and "product" relationships.

The most familiar example is the container deposit charged for a deposit bottle. One pays a fee to buy the bottle, separately from the fee to buy what it contains. If one returns the bottle, the fee is returned, and the supplier must return the bottle for re-use or recycling. If not, one has paid the fee, and presumably this can pay for landfill or litter control measures that dispose of say a broken bottle. Also, since the same fee can be collected by anyone finding and returning the bottle, it is common for people to collect these and return them as a means of surviving. This is quite common for instance among homeless people in U.S. cities.

However, the principle is applied very broadly beyond bottles to paint and automobile parts such as tires. When purchasing paint or tires in many places, one simultaneously pays for the disposal of the toxic waste they become. In some countries, such as Germany, law requires attention to the comprehensive outcome of the whole extraction, production, distribution, use and waste of a product, and holds those profiting from these legally responsible for any outcome along the way. This is also the trend in the UK and EU generally. In the United States, predictably, the issue has been confronted via class action lawsuits that attempt to hold companies liable for the environmental impact of their products. Thus far, such as litigation or proposed accounting reforms such as full cost accounting have not gained much traction for the product stewardship concept in the United States beyond the realm of academe and corporate public relations (derisively referred to as greenwashing).

The demand-side approach ethical consumerism, supported by consumer education and information about environmental impacts, may approach some of the same outcomes as product stewardship.

Extended producer responsibility

Product Stewardship is often used interchangeably with Extended producer responsibility, a similar concept. However, there are distinct differences between the two, as suggested by the semantics of the different terms used.

While both concepts bring the onus of waste management for end-of-life products from the government to the manufacturers, Product Stewardship further extends this responsibility to everyone involved in the life-cycle of the product. [ [http://www.ilsr.org/recycling/epr/index.html Waste to Wealth] ] This includes not only the manufacturers, but also the retailers, consumers and recyclers as well.

Notes

Further reading

The Product Stewardship Institute [http://www.productstewardship.us/displayPage.php?pageid=120 Principles of Product Stewardship]

The National Chemical Emergency Centre [http://www.the-ncec.com/productstewardship Product Stewardship]


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