World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

plastic washed up on beach WW274944 Greg Armfield

What is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)?

  • Date: 08 June 2021

Plastic waste is choking our planet -- polluting the air, water, and soil both people and wildlife need to survive. And as this crisis spreads to every corner of the globe, WWF is leading the charge to help reimagine how we source, design, dispose of, and reuse the plastic materials communities most depend upon. One of the biggest challenges we need to solve for is the broken promise of recycling.

Only 13% of plastic packaging in the United States is recycled, which is a hair above the 8% global average. These alarming figures show that our waste management and recycling systems are not currently set up to handle the large amounts of waste we create today – let alone in the years to come, as the world is expected to double our production of new plastic by 2040 .

We need policy makers and business leaders to take game-changing actions to help us transition from our current linear, “take – make – waste" relationship with plastic to a circular one. Circular economies will help stem our demand for new virgin plastic by ensuring that the plastic products we rely on every day are re-used and recycled, and that the valuable resources we’re taking from the planet to make the material aren’t quickly ending up as the trash polluting it.

There are many large-scale interventions that will help transition to circular economies. One that has significant potential and requires urgent political will and action is Extended Producer Responsibility—or EPR—in the United States.

While it is as technical as it sounds, EPR is a waste management concept that is emerging at the forefront of the plastic waste conversation.

So – what is EPR exactly, and why does it matter?

EPR is policy framework that would revamp recycling in the US. At its foundation, EPR would shift the financial burden of waste management away from local governments and put it on the producers of plastic packaging.

A national EPR system in the US has the potential to not only bring much needed funding and efficiency to recycling, but also incentivize packaging to be designed to be recyclable or reusable and innovate solutions that minimize the environmental impact of their products. As a policy mechanism to streamline recycling operations in the US., it will also ensure consumer access and equity to recycling for all Americans.

EPR isn’t just an environmental priority; it’s a business one. Together with American Beverage Association, we’ve built consensus on how EPR should be built in the US. And, through the OneSource Coalition, we’re also rallying companies to tell policymakers that we’re ready to make EPR a reality as part of a three-pronged approach to plastic waste policy.

More importantly, 68% of the American public believes that the companies which produce plastic should be responsible for the collection, sorting and recycling.