Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Producer responsibility and vertical integration

Why are so many products designed for disposal ~ and what can we do to change that?

The answer: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). For as long as we can remember, producers sold products with the expectation that someone else would figure out what to do with them when they broke, wore out, or just got outmoded.

The "someone else" was our local governments, who became responsible for providing convenient weekly garbage programs to make all those throw-away products disappear.

BC is a leader in EPR, with a growing list of products (and associated packaging) that now go back for recycling or safe disposal to return centres provided by producers: beverage containers, old paint, medications, motor oil and filters, etc. etc. etc.

EPR can create new local economic opportunities. By extending the service life of products rather than sending them the direct route to the landfill, EPR creates business opportunities in repair, refurbishing, repurposing and resale. A good case in point is FreeGeek in downtown Vancouver, which takes obsolete computers and trains volunteers to service them.

But the challenge of EPR is working out the rights and responsibilities of actors in the new extended "value chain." If the producer has responsibilities under EPR, do they also have property rights over their products after the consumer is done with them? What sort of claim do the repair/reuse/recycling businesses have on these products?

These are interesting legal issues that will be the focus of a private member's bill in the Canadian parliament next week. NDP MP Brian Masse is sponsoring a bill supported by the Autmotive Industries Association of Canada that would give consumers "choice" in whether to take their cars to the dealer for servicing or go to independent repair shops.

Read coverage of the bill in the Vancouver Sun.

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