Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Assuming Responsibility for Packaging and Packaging Waste

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Assuming Responsibility for Packaging and Packaging Waste

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In the last four decades, consumer convenience - emphasising throw-away packaging and disposable products - has become as much a tool of marketing as quality and price. The quantity of packaging in the waste stream, its visibility and the overall reduction in capacity to effectively manage such wastes has resulted in the development of policies for packaging stewardship or extended producer responsibility (EPR) in many countries. This paper reviews the set-up, operations and results of two early entrants on the stewardship scene: The Duales System Deutschland in Germany and the Manitoba Product Stewardship Program in Canada. The variable stewardship that has resulted, due to differing obligations on producers and consumers, is highlighted and policy direction suggested.

INTRODUCTION

A small child is given a tiny bag of potato chips, she grabs at the puffy little plastic foil bag, tussles with it and finally resorts to tearing it open with her teeth. Air escapes, the package flattens and she is left with 8 or ten chips and salty crumbs. Even such a small child quickly consumes the snack; she licks her fingers and wonders what to do with the package.

Whose responsibility is the package? The little girl's? Her parents'? The municipality that operates the landfill where it will almost surely be taken? What about the company that designed the product and chose a package that maximised its marketing appeal and in turn its profitability? Should it not bear some responsibility for the cost of disposal? What about the company's choice to market such a small amount of food in what is probably more an advertising wrapper than a container?

In the last four decades, consumer convenience - emphasising throw-away packaging and disposable products - has become as much a tool of marketing as quality and price (Fenton, 1993). The quantity of packaging in the waste stream, its visibility and the overall reduction in capacity to effectively manage such wastes has resulted in action directed at reducing the impact of packaging and packaging waste on resources and the environment. Over the past seven years such action has included the development of programs and policies for packaging stewardship, product stewardship or extended producer responsibility (EPR) in many countries.

While there are a variety of definitions of packaging stewardship, product stewardship and EPR, all include the establishment of responsibility. As an element of the Canadian National Packaging Protocol, the National Task Force on Packaging (NTFP) indicates that packaging stewardship is the "principle by which industries assume responsibility for the environmental impacts caused by the packaging that they introduce to the marketplace..." (NTFP,1994). Ryan (1993) notes that the "manufacturer should be responsible... meaning that industries, not municipal governments, must be the ones to keep it [waste] out of dumps and incinerators". Under the Canadian Industries Packaging Stewardship Initiative proposed in Ontario, the draft regulations called for "all who are responsible for introducing packaging to the market place" to "take action to divert packaging from disposal through reuse and recycling" (Ministry of Environment and Energy, 1994).

As Sinclair and Fenton (1997) indicate, packaging stewardship initiatives specifically permit industry to assume responsibility for ensuring: that the packaging they introduce to the market place has a minimal impact on the environment; that their packaging recognizes the hierarchy of source reduction, reuse and recycling, in support of general resource conservation; that their packaging recognizes and incorporates full-cost pricing. Full-cost pricing will internalise waste management costs and correctly signal consumers and producers of packaged goods on the position of a particular package in the waste management hierarchy and on the level of impact the package has on the environment. …

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