To understand how product stewardship systems work, let's first take a look at the current system for managing our garbage and recyclable materials:
- Producers create products. Products are often designed to be thrown away, are difficult to recycle or they may contain toxic materials.
- Consumers buy and use products. When products are no longer neeed, they are disposed or recycled.
- Local governments are generally responsible for managing the garbage and recycling system.
- Residents pay a fee to their local public works agency for these services.
- Even though most local governments provide basic recycling services, many can’t afford to recycle the vast array of products that could be recycled or should be managed properly because they contain toxic materials (such as electronics or fluorescent light bulbs). Therefore many products - and valuable resources - get thrown away.
- In this system, a producer's responsibility ends when the product is sold.
In a Product Stewardship System, the producer takes on part of the responsibility for managing the product at the end of life:
- Product producers help create a system to recycle or properly dispose of their products.
- Producers contract with a “Stewardship Organization” to manage a program where consumers can “take back” their products to be recycled or properly disposed when they are done using them.
- The Stewardship Organization contracts with local collectors, recyclers and processors to provide the recycling service.
- The program is funded by passing on the cost of the service to the consumer.
- Local governments publicize the program to their residents.
- Consumers buy products and when we’re done using them, we bring them to the take back program at no additional charge.
- Producers are now involved in the system and have an incentive to make products that are more recyclable, less toxic and easier to return and/or reuse.