The cost to taxpayers of managing discarded consumer products has proven to be staggeringly high. By shifting the collection and processing costs from taxpayer‐funded government programs to manufacturers and consumers, product stewardship creates the funding base needed to expand and sustain end‐of‐life management programs without depleting scarce government resources.
Many consumer products contain materials that federal and state environmental agencies have determined to be toxic. For example, electronic products such as televisions and computers can contain lead, mercury, cadmium, lithium, phosphorous, and brominated flame retardants. Batteries contain toxic metals. Fluorescent light bulbs and many thermostats contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin. These products must be properly managed at the end of their useful life in order to protect human health and the environment. Product stewardship seeks to change the dynamic so that manufacturers have a direct financial incentive to reduce their use of toxic materials and end‐of‐life management costs and, where possible, create value in the supply chain through large‐scale recycling of recovered materials.
Energy & Resources
Neglecting to recover and reuse products and packaging means energy and other natural resources are wasted in the extraction and production of virgin materials and the manufacture of new products. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the extraction, production, transport, and disposal of goods accounts for approximately 29 percent of all man‐made greenhouse gas emissions.Greater reuse and recycling of consumer products and packaging is a powerful greenhouse gas reduction strategy.
Benefits to Business
Product stewardship can save money for businesses too. Several major corporations have initiated voluntary take‐back programs because these programs are profitable. For example, since the 1990’s Xerox voluntarily takes back and re-manufactures its office equipment. Xerox now leases nearly 75 percent of all equipment, diverting over 2 billion pounds of waste from landfills and saving the corporation an estimated $2 billion. These products already have value at their end‐of‐life and, therefore, offer readily available business opportunities. Legislated product stewardship has become necessary for those products that cost money to manage once discarded. That external cost has traditionally been the financial and management responsibility of local governments who can no longer fulfill that role due to the complexity of products, budget and staffing cuts.
Product stewardship also stimulates job creation. On a per‐ton basis, recycling, sorting, and processing waste create 10 times the number of jobs created by disposal.Recycling generates domestic jobs by collecting and processing materials locally, which can replace the extraction of virgin materials often outside the region. It also provides a source of raw material for the manufacturing of new products. Product stewardship’s role in creating private sector jobs is clear in countries where it has been in place for a significant length of time. Germany’s 1991 packaging stewardship law has resulted in the employment of 17,000 people.British Columbia created an estimated 2,100 full‐time jobs through programs for beverage containers, used oil, tires, and electronics.
Product stewardship offers numerous economic benefits. Providing convenient collection options for the public avoids the cost of cleaning up contamination resulting from inappropriate disposal. While it is not possible to estimate such cost savings precisely, the magnitude is proportionate to the quantity and toxicity of material in products. As an example, between 7 and 10 tons of mercury are contained in the mercury thermostats coming out of service each year in the United States. Cleaning up a single pound of mercury from a spill can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Product stewardship does not simply shift costs from the public sector to the private sector. It reduces overall system costs since product stewardship programs require all stakeholders to work together and assume clearly defined roles.