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Sustainable Development Information for Businesses

Sustainable development is about producing products at no net loss to the environment. Not only does this make environmental sense; it makes dollars and sense!

Overview - Focus on Product Systems, Packaging Origins in Europe Laws: Federal, State, Local and International Resources Resources to Download Free List of Organizations and contacts EPA-Related Programs


Extended Product Responsibility -- a product-oriented approach to environmental protection -- is one of many strategies for moving toward sustainable development. What is unique about EPR is that it challenges multiple players in the product chain to reduce the life cycle environmental impacts of products. Some of the ways companies can do their part include:

Designing products that are:
  • made with fewer toxic resources
  • made with recycled content
  • durable
  • easily reused, repaired and recycled
  • Selling a service rather than a product and/or,
  • Taking back products at the end of their useful life.
  • By applying EPR, some companies are seizing a competitive advantage and realizing important benefits, including reduced manufacturing costs, improved product performance and enhanced customer loyalty.

    Some of the ways consumers can do their part include:

    Buying products designed with the environment in mind; Participating in reuse and take back programs.
    Some of the ways government can do its part include:
    Purchasing or leasing products with reduced environmental impacts; and Reducing barriers to recovery of end-of-life products. As a broad principle, EPR captures several other familiar strategies, including:

    eco-efficiency design for the environment supply chain management product stewardship

    EPA brochure about Extended Product Responsibility and Sustainable Development - in pdf format - contact us

    Focus on Product Systems

    Traditional approaches to environmental protection have focused largely on reducing pollution from individual facilities. Further advances in resource conservation and pollution prevention will only be incremental unless a more comprehensive approach is taken. Reducing the life-cycle impacts of products requires reconsidering entire product systems, including:

    product necessity and function; product design; choice of raw materials; use of the product; manufacturing process; and fate of the product at the end of its useful life.

    Reducing the "environmental footprint" of entire product systems is an essential component of sustainable development and, therefore, an important focus for the next generation of environmental protection.

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    In most parts of the developed world, packaging constitutes as much as one-third of the non-industrial solid waste stream. As the developing world races to raise living standards, more countries are seeing significant growth in their packaging waste. At least 28 countries currently have laws designed to encourage reduced packaging and greater recycling of packaging discards. Many of these countries require manufacturers to take back packaging discards or pay for their recycling.

    There are no federal packaging mandates of a similar nature in the United States. However, state and local government concern about packaging, especially plastic packaging, has risen in the last year as consumer product manufacturers introduce new containers that can adversely impact recycling. In this same vein, a number of high-profile non-profit campaigns have been launched to raise consumer awareness and exert pressure on manufacturers to design plastic beverage containers with recyclability in mind and to incorporate and/or raise recycled content in these containers.

    By applying the principles of EPR, packaging can be made more sustainable by:

    eliminating toxic constituents; using less material; making it more reusable; using more recycled content; and making it more readily recyclable. ehso blue lightbar

    Origins in Europe

    The new focus on products is most visible in Europe where, increasingly, producers are held responsible for recovery of their products at end-of-life. Germany got the ball rolling in 1991 when it made producers and importers responsible for taking back or paying to manage packaging after consumers discarded it. Since then, many other European countries and Japan have followed suit with "producer responsibility" laws covering:

    packaging; electronics; vehicles; batteries; paints and other household hazardous wastes; building materials, and others

    Producer Responsibility is being implemented in many different ways. The approaches range from placing full responsibility for collection and recovery on producers to sharing costs to voluntary programs with backdrop governmental authority to mandate responsibility if necessary. By shifting the cost of managing these products from municipalities to producers, these laws are intended to send an economic signal to manufacturers to reduce waste associated with their products.

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    Resources to Download Free

    Private Sector Pioneers: How Companies Are Incorporating Environmentally Preferable Purchasing. U.S. EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. July 1999. EPA742-R-99-001.

    This report highlights the efforts of 18 companies to "buy green." Many of these companies are preventing tremendous amounts of pollution and saving millions of dollars as a result of adding the environment to their purchasing equation. To order a copy, contact the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse at (202) 260-1023.

    "Servicizing": The Quiet Transition to Extended Product Responsibility. Prepared by The Tellus Institute under a cooperative agreement with U.S. EPA. May 1999.

    This report focuses on the environmental implications of "servicizing," an emerging class of product-based services. It examines whether "servicizing" is a driver for extended product responsibility.

    Making the Business Case for Extended Product Responsibility: A Snapshot of Leading Practices and Tools (Adobe Acrobat PDF file). U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste. April 1999.

    In the United States, where pursuit of EPR activities is largely voluntary, the principal drivers to EPR must be direct or indirect economic returns. This paper examines how some leading companies combine environmental and cost considerations in making decisions on implementing extended product responsibility. It contains case studies of company decision-making processes and the tools they employ to analyze the costs and benefits of extended product responsibility.

    Summaries of OECD Workshops on EPR were prepared by EPA for three of the four stakeholder workshops held by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: (1) December 1997 - Ottawa, Canada (Adobe Acrobat PDF file); (2) May 1998 - Helsinki, Finland (Adobe Acrobat PDF file); and (3) December 1998 - Washington, D.C., USA (Adobe Acrobat PDF file); The workshops were held to discuss issues related to OECD member countries' experiences with extended producer responsibility. Outcomes of the workshops will be used in developing an OECD guidance document for governments on EPR, which is expected to be published in 2000.

    European Corporate Sustainability: What Can the United States Learn from the European Experience? Joanna Krinn, U.S. EPA. March 1999.

    The purpose of this report is to describe the sustainability strategies that corporations are using and/or developing in Europe, with the goal of determining what the United States can learn from the European systems.

    Extended Product Responsibility: A Strategic Framework for Sustainable Products (Adobe Acrobat PDF file). December, 1998. EPA530-K-98-004.

    This brochure provides a concise definition of extended product responsibility and describes how implementing it has a positive effect on a company's bottom line. To order a copy, call the RCRA Hotline at (800) 424-9346, (703) 412-9810 (greater Washington, DC, area), or (800) 553-7672 (TDD for hearing-impaired).

    Extended Product Responsibility. WasteWise Update. U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste. October 1998. EPA530-N-98-007.

    This issue of the Update highlights EPR strategies in use by WasteWise partners.

    Extended Product Responsibility: A New Principle for Product-Oriented Pollution Prevention. U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste. June 1997. EPA530-R-97-009. Prepared by the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies under a cooperative agreement with U.S. EPA.

    This report reviews the evolution of the principle of extended product responsibility, tracing its origins in Europe to its formulation in the United States by the President's Council on Sustainable Development. The report also presents in-depth case studies of U.S. companies in the appliance, automotive, electronics, batteries, information, and cleaning services industries that are practicing extended product responsibility. Through these case studies, the report illustrates some of the important business advantages of embracing the extended product responsibility principle.

    Proceedings of the Workshop on Extended Product Responsibility: October 21-22, 1996. EPA530-R-97-020.

    To enhance understanding of EPR, EPA co-hosted an EPR workshop with the President's Council on Sustainable Development in the fall of 1996. Proceedings from this workshop explain the basic principles of EPR and its application. The document includes case studies featuring EPR activities of companies including Xerox Corporation, S.C. Johnson Wax Company, Safety-Kleen Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and

    Emerging Solid Waste Issues and Trends (Adobe Acrobat PDF file). Speech by Robert Dellinger, Director, Municipal and Industrial Solid Waste Division, U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, given at the ASTSWMO Solid Waste Manager's Conference, July, 1999.

    Product Responsibility: Promoting Voluntary Action (Adobe Acrobat PDF file). Speech by Elizabeth Cotsworth, Director, U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, at the Take It Back '99 Conference, May 1999, Alexandria, Virginia.

    Extended Product Responsibility Through Voluntary Partnership (Adobe Acrobat PDF file). Speech by Clare Lindsay, U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, at the OECD Workshop on Extended and Shared Product Responsibility, December 1998, Washington, DC.

    Supply Chain Environmental Management: Lessons from Leaders in the Electronics Industry. U.S.-Asia Environmental Partnership. September 1999.

    This report examines how supply chain environmental management is working in the electronics industry and identifies challenges and opportunities for customers and suppliers in this sector.

    Eco-Design Checklists for Electronic Manufacturers, Systems Integrators, and Suppliers of Components and Sub-Assemblies. The Centre for Sustainable Design, England. May 1999.

    This guide and its checklists provide a systematic approach to applying environmental life cycle considerations at the product design stage. It is intended to help ensure that potentially significant environmental issues are identified and considered early in product design.

    Healthy Communities in the Global Economy: A Stakeholders' Meeting. May 1999.

    This report summarizes the stakeholders' dialogue held at Santa Clara University, California. The event brought together representatives from high-tech companies and environmental, workplace health and safety, labor, and faith-based organizations to explore such questions as how to foster more cooperative relationships to improve environmental conditions in the global economy.

    Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling Baseline Report: Recycling of Selected Electronic Products in the United States. National Safety Council, Environmental Health Center. May 1999.

    This study presents the results of the first comprehensive survey and analysis of end-of-life electronic product recycling and reuse in the United States. The survey gives actual data for 1997 and 1998 and gives sales, obsolescence, and recycling forecasts for the future.

    Dillion, Patricia S. Recycling Infrastructure for Engineering Thermoplastics: A Supply Chain Analysis. (Adobe Acrobat PDF file) The Gordon Institute at Tufts University. May 1999.

    This paper, funded by EPA's Office of Solid Waste, analyzes the dynamics of the plastics and electronics supply chain to identify successes, barriers, and opportunities in plastics recycling and use of recycled content in electronic equipment. The paper illustrates the potential for voluntary cooperation among companies in the supply chain to recover and recycle engineering thermoplastics.

    Analysis of Five Community Consumer/Residential Collections of End-of-Life Electrical and Electronic Equipment. EPA-901-R-98-003 April 1999. (Note: After linking to this document, scroll alphabetically to End-of-life...)

    This report brings together case study data from pilot and ongoing electronic product recovery and recycling programs in the United States. It covers programs in San Jose, California; Somerville, Massachusetts; Binghamton, New York; and Naperville/Wheaton, Illinois. It also covers ongoing programs in Hennepin County, Minnesota, and Union County, New Jersey. The report includes summaries of program costs, materials collected, and advantages of different collection methods.

    This report is available by contacting Fred Friedman, Director of the Research Library for RCRA, EPA Region 1, by e-mail, [email protected], or by phone, (617) 565-3282.

    Designing for the Environment: A Design Guide for Information and Technology Equipment. American Plastics Council. Second printing, 1999.

    This document contains environmental criteria for design engineers and others to consider in manufacturing information technology equipment. It was developed in conjunction with a variety of original equipment manufacturers.

    Bay Area Electronic Recycling: From the Corporate Office to the Curbside. Materials for the Future Foundation . 1999.

    A user-friendly brochure describing electronics recycling activities in the San Francisco Bay Area and discussing issues such as regulations, policy recommendations, and plastics use and recycling, which are relevant to electronics recycling everywhere.

    Jobs Through Recycling (JTR) Web Site. EPA Office of Solid Waste.

    The JTR Web site contains an archive of JTRnet messages. JTRnet is a list serve for recycling market development professionals. The archive, entitled Netshare, is organized by topic, beginning with a request for information followed by a series of responses from other subscribers to the list server. Netshare contains an electronics section under the commodities topic.

    Dillon, Patricia S. Potential Markets for CRTs and Plastics from Electronics Demanufacturing: An Initial Scoping Report. Chelsea Center for Recycling and Economic Development. August 1998.

    This report provides an overview of potential applications and markets for two problem materials arising from the electronics demanufacturing process: cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and plastic housings.

    San Jose Computer Collection and Recycling Pilot. U.S. EPA. July 1998.

    This report describes the 1997 pilot project to collect used computer equipment from consumers in San Jose, CA. A goal of this project was to test the feasibility of collecting used electronic equipment at retail stores. Please see Vista Environmental, Inc.

    Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling Conference Summary Report. April 1998.

    Summary of the 1998 EPR2 Conference including sessions and keynote addresses.

    Electronics Commodity Profile: Markets Assessment 1998. North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance.

    This assessment focuses on the reuse and recycling of computers in North Carolina in 1997.

    Guidelines for Lease vs. Purchase of Information Technologies. Texas Department of Information Resources.

    These guidelines were developed for use by Texas state agencies in analyzing the cost of leasing versus purchasing information technology equipment. The report also contains a sample vendor selection checklist as well as a sample lease contract negotiation checklist.

    Sustainable Industrial Development: A Benchmark Evaluation of Public Environmental Policies and Reporting in the Electronics Industry. Prepared by Benchmark Environmental Consulting for EPA's Office of Emerging Strategies. November 1997.

    This report defines 19 criteria for a sustainable company, derived from the President's Council for Sustainable Development and other sources. It assesses the environmental policies and reporting of eight leading electronics companies to benchmark leading practices within the sector.

    Product Stewardship and the Coming Age of Take-Back. Cutter Information Corp. 1996.

    This report illustrates how some manufacturers made take-back programs a cost-effective, even profitable, part of their operations, and walks companies through the decision-making process needed to set up take-back programs.

    Profitable Compliance with Environmental Regulations in the Electronics Industry. Gordon, Pamela.

    This book discusses cost-effective ways to meet environmental regulations, generating additional revenues for environmental products and services complying with ISO 14000. Please see Technology Forecasters for additional information.

    Electronic Forum on Lead-Free Advances in Electronics. Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits.

    The Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits (IPC) has launched a new list serve on lead-free electronics assemblies for members of the electronics assembly and printed wiring board industries. This forum is a good resource for European legislative updates, lead-free technology developments, issues surrounding lead-free alternatives, and more related to reducing lead in electronics products.