Extending Producer Responsibility: An Evaluation Framework for Product Take-Back Policies
Executive Summary — Managing products at the end of life (EOL) is of growing concern for durable goods manufacturers. While some manufacturers engage in voluntary "take back" of EOL products for a variety of competitive reasons, the past 10 years have seen the rapid proliferation of government regulations and policies requiring manufacturers to collect and recycle their products, or pay others to do so on their behalf. Toffel, Stein, and Lee develop a framework for evaluating the extent to which these product take-back regulations offer the potential to reduce the environmental impacts of these products in an effective and cost-efficient manner, while also providing adequate occupational health and safety protection. The evaluation framework is illustrated with examples drawn from take-back regulations in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Key concepts include:
- The authors identify key policy levers that promote cost efficiency while reducing risks to the environment, public health, and the workers involved in recovery operations.
- Key policy decisions include setting the scope of manufacturer responsibilities, the stringency of recovery and recycling targets, design-for-environment requirements and substance bans, restrictions on when customer fees can be imposed, and limitations on the industrial organization of the recycling market.
Manufacturers are increasingly being required to adhere to product take-back regulations that require them to manage their products at the end of life. Such regulations seek to internalize products' entire life cycle costs into market prices, with the ultimate objective of reducing their environmental burden. This article provides a framework to evaluate the potential for take-back regulations to actually lead to reduced environmental impacts and to stimulate product design changes. It describes trade-offs associated with several major policy decisions, including whether to hold firms physically or financially responsible for the recovery of their products, when to impose recycling fees, whether to include disposal and hazardous substance bans, and whether to mandate product design features to foster reuse and recycling of components and materials. The framework also addresses policy elements that can significantly affect the cost efficiency and occupational safety hazards of end-of-life product recovery operations. The evaluation framework is illustrated with examples drawn from take-back regulations promulgated in Europe, Japan, and the United States governing waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).