This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News on March 5, 2015. It is republished with permission.
In Teton County, Idaho, recycling is available to all residents and visitors, and follows the common model that it is the consumers’ responsibility to do it. It is up to the consumer to choose products with less packaging or with recyclable packaging, to separate recyclables from trash, and to either transport those materials to recycling bins or pay for curbside recycling pickup. Manufacturers favor this model because it puts 100% of the responsibility for appropriate disposal of their products on the shoulders of the consumer. Manufacturers only have to worry about, and pay for, production and distribution of their products. How would consumption look if product disposal wasn’t the responsibility of the consumer?
In places with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies, the manufacturer of a product is responsible for its entire lifecycle, including take-back, recycling, and final disposal. There are several advantages to delegating responsibility for waste disposal with manufacturers. First, it provides incentive for manufacturers to design products with material reduction, reuse, and recycling in mind. EPR laws also spark innovation in recycling technology for difficult to recycle materials. Finally, EPR policies correct product pricing to include the hidden costs of disposal. Electronics take-back programs are the most common example of EPR.
Product Stewardship is another model of materials management that is similar to EPR. The main difference between the two is that Product Stewardship applies across the supply chain to manufacturers, distributers, and retail outlets. A common example of Product Stewardship is container deposit laws. In states with container deposit laws, consumers pay an additional five or ten cents when they purchase beverages in cans or bottles. If they return the container, usually to a redemption machine located in the store where it was purchased, they receive their deposit back. Recycling rates are much higher in states with container deposit laws.
Twenty-five states currently have EPR laws; Idaho is not one of them. However, several local businesses voluntarily take back their products for recycling:
- Broulim’s collects and recycles plastic shopping bags
- Fall River Rural Electric Cooperative takes back large and small fluorescent lightbulbs for recycling at their office in Driggs
- Yostmark and NOLS of Teton Valley recycle worn Patagonia clothing
- Grand Teton Brewing Company takes back and reuses grayboard 4-pack and 6-pack holders that are in good condition
- Tetonic Wines provides a 50-cent rebate for consumers who return their glass wine bottles to Barrels and Bins for recycling
- Silverstar Communications takes back their used cell phones for recycling
- Ace Hardware recycles used rechargeable batteries
Supporting businesses that take back their products for recycling enables them to continue a valuable service. Furthermore, these local models provide evidence that product stewardship or extended producer responsibility policies could work, even in rural Idaho. Reducing waste requires more than public participation; it requires “thinking outside of the trash can”. Product stewardship and extended producer responsibility policies are one way to do that.
Tanya Anderson was the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling from 2012-2014. She continues to promote ethical waste reduction programs as a volunteer. For more information, visit www.tetonrecycling.org.