Extended producer responsibility – what does EPR mean?

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What is EPR?

EPR, recyclate, recycling processes, sorting plants, and recycling rates – there are many technical terms in circular economy that describe fundamental principles or processes. But what exactly is the meaning behind these technical terms and abbreviations? In this article, we explain the concept of EPR and why it holds significant importance for our environment and the protection of our natural resources.

What is extended producer responsibility (EPR)?

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy approach that plays a crucial role in the waste management and recycling industry in Germany, as well as in many other countries.

Under this approach, all manufacturers of packaging and other product categories, or those who introduce them into the market, are held responsible for the quantities of packaging or products they put into circulation. And this goes beyond production and sale to end consumers to disposal, collection and recycling. 

The sector is completely irrelevant: manufacturers from the food sector as well as from the textile, clothing, footwear and cosmetics sectors are held responsible, as are manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment and batteries.

What is the goal of extended producer responsibility (EPR)?

In Europe, manufacturers and distributors are obliged to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products and all packaging put into circulation. This means that not only design and distribution are relevant, but also take-back, transport and disposal or reprocessing must be considered. 

The aim of Extended Producer Responsibility is to ensure a functioning circular economy. By shifting the responsibilities for the take-back and recycling of a product or packaging, on the one hand its orderly return to the cycle is to be ensured. On the other hand, incentives for a more efficient and environmentally friendly product design are to be created, thus minimising the environmental impact at every stage of a product. Since the polluter pays principle applies and companies are responsible not only for the sale but also for the associated raw materials and their reprocessing, the incentive to reprocess products and packaging in the most sustainable and recyclable way possible increases.

EPR contributes to various positive effects, including:

  • Waste Reduction: Products and packaging designed to last longer and to be more easily recyclable, lead to reduced environmental waste.
  • Resource Conservation: By promoting recycling and reuse, valuable resources such as raw materials and energy are conserved.
  • Innovation: Manufacturers are motivated to develop innovative solutions to make their products more sustainable, promoting technology development and the use of eco-friendly materials.

Which manufacturers are affected by EPR?

In principle, all companies that

  • manufacture and/or market goods for sale in the EU,  
  • import or  
  • distribute products as (online) traders

should deal with the issue of EPR and check in each individual case whether they are subject to respective obligations.

What do manufacturers need to consider to comply with EPR requirements?

As soon as a company is subject to EPR obligations, it must fulfill a wide range of requirements in order to be allowed to place its packaging and products on the market at all.  

Registration: The company must register with the relevant national authorities and take-back systems (Producer Responsibility Organisations – PROs). No products may be imported into the country before this. 

Disposal fees and quantity reporting: After registration, the company must declare the planned quantities to be placed on the market. The amount of the disposal fees that must be paid depends on this quantity. 

Labeling and information obligations: In order to inform end consumers how recycling can be maximized and environmental damage minimized at the same time, labeling and information obligations on the packaging are prescribed. 

However, the exact implementation of the EPR requirements may differ from one EU member state to another. This makes it a great challenge for the manufacturers and distributors concerned to know and fulfill all country-specific obligations in their target markets. 

In some countries, there are so-called Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) that support obligated companies in meeting their EPR requirements. In Germany, for example, these organizations are called “dual systems”. Producers fulfill their extended producer responsibility by participating in one of these dual systems. In return, they pay license fees for the quantities of packaging or products placed on the market and the systems take over the collection, sorting, and recycling of these quantities.

What happens if EPR regulations are not met?

In case of uncertainty, manufacturers should always check (or have checked) whether they fall under Extended Producer Responsibility. If this is the case and they do not comply with their obligations, this can lead to penalties. These are regulated in the country-specific laws and can vary depending on the violation and the country. 

Penalties can be incurred for lack of registration, incomplete or incorrect reporting, failure to pay fees in full, as well as for a breach of labeling and information obligations. 

Important: Penalties can also be enforced retroactively for past years.

To avoid penalties and bans, we recommend using our EPR Compliance Check tool to get to know the specific EPR requirements per country across Europe.

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