Government is so easy to rail against. How great it is to lambast those faceless time-sucking bureaucrats that don’t care anything about Me. How fun to stomp around, spit into the wind, and swear about all that they do wrong.
In the latest edition of E-Scrap News (December 2011), the Director of Corporate Environmental Affairs for Sony Electronics, Doug Smith, kicked a lot of dust onto the EPR bandwagon. He waived his arms madly and decried all the failed promises and half-eaten logic of pointy-headed pension-brained cubicle lifers. But by the end of his article, entitled “EPR’s Broken Promises,” Doug was onto something. He was asking us all to consider the programs in Canada and Europe, which resulted in “rational laws” and “protected the current economic markets and developed fair market financing.” Doug is rightly concerned about how government policies can best accomplish laudable goals, as well as to encourage product design changes by individual producers managing their own products.
Sure, there is much you might disagree with in Doug’s article. The claim that “[EPR has] no influence on product design” is as unsubstantiated as the definitive statement that it does have influence. Nor does the article fully explore that there are many other reasons why government pursues EPR laws – among them fairness to taxpayers, lowering government costs, environmental benefits, and recycling jobs. It also does not mention that many of the problems with the current laws were caused by electronics manufacturers failing to agree among themselves about what is best policy. Also, the statement that EPR is a “hidden tax” mixes up what is paid for by taxes (most government programs) and what is a consumer product fee (EPR). And the “regressive ripple effect of cost internalization” is a real mind bender. Oh, and my favorite – that no EPR electronics laws except CA’s ARF can claim to create jobs because there is no way to ensure that the jobs stay in the state.
But all the hand waving aside, Doug is pointing out the real need to take an honest assessment of the 25 U.S. EPR electronics laws. Which work, and which don’t, and why? What can we learn from laws in other countries? How have these laws performed relative to lowering costs, saving governments money, increasing recycling, creating jobs, and creating a level playing field? What are the policy best practices, and should these be woven into a new federal law that covers all the states?
Emotions can often run high with EPR. After all, the movement has created a paradigm shift of tectonic proportions that has changed the dynamic of how waste in the U.S. and globally is managed. For electronics EPR in the U.S., it is time to step back and assess the situation in a balanced manner – with all the stakeholders at the table.