Product stewardship means that all parties involved in designing, manufacturing, selling, and using a product take responsibility for environmental impacts at every stage of that product's life. The greater the ability of a party to influence the life-cycle impacts of the product, the greater the degree of responsibility the party has for addressing those impacts.
Manufacturers that practice product stewardship share in the financial and physical responsibility for collecting and recycling products at the end of their useful lives. When manufacturers share the costs of recycling products, they have an incentive to use recycled materials in new products and design products to be less toxic and easier to recycle, incorporating environmental concerns into the earliest phases of product design.
Product stewardship encourages manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to treat products as resources rather than waste, changing how they think about the products they make, buy, and use.
Goals of product stewardship
- Reducing or eliminating the toxic and hazardous constituents of products and product components
- Reducing the toxicity and amount of waste that results from the manufacture, use, and disposal of products
- Using materials, energy, and water efficiently at every stage of a product's life cycle, including product manufacture, distribution, sale, use, and recovery
Placing responsibility on product purchasers and users for reducing toxicity and waste from product use and disposal
Pricing products to reflect the costs of managing waste and recycling, so the costs are not paid by government
Government should lead by example by promoting product stewardship in purchasing, capital investments, and recycling and waste management.
Companies in specific industries have developed stewardship programs that create economic efficiencies while reducing waste from their products.
PaintCare — Established by the American Coatings Association, PaintCare is a nonprofit organization running paint stewardship programs in states where they are mandated. Minnesota's paint stewardship mandate launched in 2014.
Call2Recycle — Approximately 350 million rechargeable batteries are purchased annually in the U.S. Call2Recycle is a nationwide collection program serving retailers, businesses, communities, and public agencies. It has grown from the initial work of five battery manufacturers.
Thermostat Recycling Corporation — Thermostat Recycling Corporation began as a take-back program organized by thermostat manufacturers. It collects old mercury-switch thermostats, regardless of brand, for recycling. Since 1998, the organization has collected 2.4 million thermostats and safely disposed of more than 23,000 pounds of mercury.
Carpet America Recovery Effort — Companies in the carpet industry established Carpet America Recovery Effort to increase the reuse and recycling of post-consumer carpet. The Carpet America Recovery Effort previously collected carpet in Minnesota but has discontinued the program.
Product Care — In the '90s, Canada's Ministry of the Environment began requiring companies selling paint in British Columbia to offer free collection of waste paint for consumers. The industry formed Product Care, and the organization has since expanded to work with pesticides, petroleum products, and more. The program is funded by an "eco-fee" that is charged at the point of sale.