Have you ever wondered how UK producer responsibility compares to the world’s largest consumer society, the United States?
Here we take a look at how U.S. law ensures that our planet is protected from harmful materials and consumer waste.
In the U.K. we have implemented four sets of regulations that stem from mandatory European directives. These laws place responsibility on those who manufacture, import, and/or sell packaging, electrical goods, batteries and vehicles. The goal of the regulations is to minimise the waste arising from these items at the end of their life and their aim is to encourage re-use and increase recycling through ensuring stringent targets are met. They also encourage producers to design these products with reusability and ease of recycling in mind. These regulations, in essence, bridge the gap between producers and end users.
If we look across the pond to the U.S. there is much more of a disconnect between manufacture and disposal of goods. As with many laws in the U.S., there is a lack of continuity between what has been enacted from state to state. The major difference between U.K. and U.S. regulations lies in the fact that there is only one governing body in the U.K. as opposed to the 50 that lie within the U.S.
One of the widest ranging areas of producer responsibility in the U.S. are laws regarding the proper disposal of electronics, with 23 states having enacted individual legislation. These laws vary according to where the responsibility falls and how obligations are fulfilled. They also have a much smaller scope of what types of electronics fall under them than the WEEE regulations in the UK.
Let’s take a look at the state of Maine which has law that places responsibility on producers to finance the costs of sorting, transporting and recycling their WEEE. Interestingly, the Maine legislation sets no recycling targets. In 2010 the program collected about 1.8kg of WEEE per capita; in comparison the U.K. WEEE regulations set a performance goal of 20kg per capita per annum. More success has been found in the Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin regulations, which have achieved collection rates of 2.7 kg per capita, however this higher collection rate is likely due to recycling targets being established within the legislation and surcharges being enforced if the targets aren’t met.
Battery producers in the U.S. have established the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), which consists of a nationwide network of collection sites where consumers and businesses can dispose of rechargeable batteries at no cost. In 2010 there was an estimated 10-12% of batteries collected from these sites, compared to 40% of batteries collected in the U.K. in 2015. Only three states have enacted laws that place the responsibility on producers to collect and recycle single-use batteries.
As of now, there are no producer responsibility laws in the U.S. regarding packaging waste. Packaging waste going to landfill remains to be an issue. However, there are specific regulations related to the environmental impact of mercury thermostats, leftover paint and mercury-containing automobile switches, none of which the U.K. currently has producer responsibility laws for.
The political futures of both the U.K. and the U.S. are uncertain with the upcoming Brexit vote and the presidential election this November and there could well be changes on the horizon for environmental regulations in both regions. Watch this space for what we hope to be improvements on both sides towards more effective and widespread environmental legislation.
Key account manager
Abigail joined Ecosurety in June 2015 and is now a key account manager, providing valuable support to our clients to ensure their needs are met. She graduated in 2014 with a BSc in Environmental Studies from Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.
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