Taking Back the Trash: Comparing European Extended Producer Responsibility and Take-Back Liability to U.S. Environmental Policy and Attitudes

By Short, Megan | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Taking Back the Trash: Comparing European Extended Producer Responsibility and Take-Back Liability to U.S. Environmental Policy and Attitudes


Short, Megan, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


ABSTRACT

The European Union and many individual European countries have in recent years developed waste management schemes that require manufacturers to take back products at the end of their useful life and shoulder responsibility for their recycling or disposal. The United States currently has no such national scheme. As the generation of waste increases, the United States will likely be forced to examine the merits of such a national policy. The traditional approach to environmental liability and the individualistic culture of the United States, however, present unique obstacles to take-back mandates. The Author addresses those obstacles and possible solutions to them. The feasibility of developing such a system in the United States is also examined. The Author argues that such an environmental liability scheme could be developed in the United States, although there are many lessons to be learned from the systems used by members of the European Union.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. WASTE DISPOSAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL
     A. Introduction to Take-Back Laws
     B. Take-Back Laws in Europe
        1. European Union
        2. Individual States
     C. In Search of a National Take-Back Scheme:
        Waste Management in the United States
III. SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ATTITUDES IN AN EPR
     FRAMEWORK
     A. A Western Cultural Divide." Europe and
        the United States

     B. Social Differences: Implications for
        Take-Back Laws
        1. Criticisms of EPR
        2. American Environmental and Social
           Attitudes
           a. Environmental Attitudes
           b. Implications of Social
              Attitudes for Environmental
              Problems
 IV. TAKE-BACK: A SOLUTION FOR THE UNITED STATES?
     A. Developing a Regulatory Scheme:
        Legislative Feasibility
     B. Domestic Legal Roadblocks
     C. Attitudes as Barriers
  V. RECOMMENDATIONS
 VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

In 2001, the United States alone produced more than 7.8 billion tons of trash. (1) Increased waste generation is not unique to the United States; it is a global problem that will not go away. (2) Recycling is a popular solution, but there is room for growth in the development of waste management techniques) The speed at which technological development makes products obsolete is a growing problem. (4) An estimated 60 million new computers enter the U.S. market every year. (5) New product development creates an even faster growing pile of electronic waste as old products are discarded. It is estimated that by 2007, 500 million computers will be obsolete and in need of a place for disposal. (6) As the problem of waste generation continues to grow, governments struggle to create new coping strategies.

The European Union and individual European countries have implemented extended producer responsibility legal mandates to address rapid waste generation. (7) Extended producer responsibility, also known as "take-back," requires manufacturers and sellers of products to take back from the consumer used products at the end of their useful life and to pay for their recycling and disposal. (8) The first country to adopt such a strategy was Germany. (9) Germany's policy in turn inspired the European Union to issue directives for packaging materials, waste, end-of-life automobiles, and other environmental problems, (l0) The popular European approach is to create private entities to contract with manufacturers for disposal, (11) This approach is one, however, that does not come without obstacles, including high costs. (12)

This Note explores the mandates adopted by the European Union and individual European states and examines the feasibility of their implementation in the United States. Part II outlines the current extended producer responsibility schemes in Europe and the current waste disposal system in the United States. Part III examines the societal and cultural differences that account for varying environmental attitudes in Europe and the United States, with a focus on Germany. …

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