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Product Stewardship (Archived, No Longer Updated): Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Product Stewardship
Types and Examples of Product Stewardship
Principles of Product Stewardship
Case Studies and Examples
Where to Go for P2 Help
Complete List of Links

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Product Stewardship is a product-centered approach to pollution prevention that makes all parties involved in producing, selling, or using a product take responsibility for the full environmental and economic impacts of that product. Instead of focusing on the processes of an individual manufacturer, product stewardship expands the pollution prevention frame by looking up and down the product chain for opportunities to reduce environmental impacts and resource use. The greater the ability of a party to influence the life cycle impacts of a product, the greater the degree of that party's responsibility. The stakeholders typically include manufacturers, retailers, consumers, and government officials.

Product stewardship seeks to reduce waste disposal, relieve the burden on municipalities dealing with soaring volumes of waste, and spur design innovations on the part of the entire supply chain. Product stewardship is a less regulatory, more voluntary approach that grew out of the principles of Extended Producer Responsibility.

Governments, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers all have a role to play in product stewardship - to reduce environmental impacts associated with consumption. A growing number of partnerships involving these players have incorporated product stewardship objectives into solid waste master plans and launched cooperative efforts to encourage reduced consumption, recycling, enviromentally friendly design, and reuse/remanufacturing. Some states have developed product stewardship-type legislation for selected products. There is also a growing trend among state procurement officials of encouraging product stewardship innovations through their purchasing programs. Consumers have an important role to make sound puchasing decisions and demand and support recovery and recycling programs.

A Brief History

In 1991, the German government--prompted by a serious landfill shortage--passed a groundbreaking law that required manufacturers and distributors to take back packaging from consumers and ensure that a specified percentage of it was recycled. Product take-back soon evolved into a broader principle, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which makes manufacturers responsible for the entire lifecycle of the products and packaging they produce.

EPR now underpins environmental policies throughout much of the industrialized world, with EPR laws covering products such as consumer batteries, pharmaceuticals, mercury-containing products, electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles, and chemicals. The various countries that have mandated EPR have imposed different requirements, complicating the business environment for companies that do business multinationally.

The United States is unique among industrialized countries in not having any national EPR mandates, due to industry resistance to what is viewed as a heavy-handed regulatory approach. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency, many state and local governments and environmental organizations actively support and promote the EPR concept, which has evolved into extended product responsibility and product stewardship.

A few basic differences exist between the EPR and product stewardship concepts. Product stewardship (1) recognizes the role of all actors along the entire product chain (including designers, manufacturers, retailers, consumers, recyclers and disposers), and addresses environmental effects throughout the product lifecycle. Extended producer responsibility focuses solely on producers and their role in reducing impacts of post-consumer waste.

Product stewardship initiatives include product take-back programs, design for environment programs, deposit-refund systems, product bans, eco-labeling, leasing and servicizing programs, and green purchasing programs. This topic hub will take a look at these programs and provide resources, and general guidance for implementation.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

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Hub Last Updated: 9/27/2012