Product Stewardship is the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages. The producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law. Stewardship effortt generally begin with the most toxic and/or voluminous of materials. There are many organizations dedicated to the advancement of product stewardship; Product Stewardship Institute, Upstream, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration.


Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer’s responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.

The Principles of Extended Producer Responsibility include key elements that should be included in all EPR legislation. Although these Principles will be applied differently by different jurisdictions, they are aspirational and considered best practice to achieve maximum results.

Producer Responsibility: Producers are required to design, manage, and finance programs for end-of-life management of their products and packaging as a condition of sale. These programs may or may not use existing collection and processing infrastructure. Programs should cover all products in a given category, including those from companies no longer in business and from companies that cannot be identified.

Level Playing Field: All producers within a particular product category have the same requirements, whether they choose to meet them individually or jointly with other producers.

Results-based: Producers have flexibility to design the product management system to meet the performance goals established by government, with minimum government involvement. Producer-managed systems must follow the resource conservation hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle, and beneficially use, as appropriate. Products must be managed in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment. Producers design and implement public education programs to ensure achievement of performance goals and standards established by government. All consumers have convenient access to collection opportunities without charge.

Transparency and Accountability: Government is responsible for ensuring that producer programs are transparent and accountable to the public.
Producer programs, including their development and the fate of products managed, provide opportunity for input by all stakeholders.

Roles for Government, Retailers and Consumers: Government is responsible for ensuring a level playing field for all parties in the product value chain to maintain a competitive marketplace with open access to all, for setting and enforcing performance goals and standards, for supporting industry programs through procurement, and for helping educate the public. Retailers only sell brands within a covered product category that are made by producers participating in an industry program, and are responsible for providing information to consumers on how to access the programs.
Consumers have a responsibility to reduce waste, reuse products, use take-back and other collection programs, and make appropriate purchasing decisions based on available information about product impacts and benefits.

See the following reports for more detailed information: 
Elements of a Best In Class Recycling Program (PDF)
Sustainability Fee Fact Sheet (PDF)

The Product Stewardship Institute has a whole list of products being considered through this approach. These are some examples in Michigan:

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Electronics, such as TVs computers, monitors, cell phones, and tablets, contain valuable metals and components that can be used again in another manufacturing process. But they also contain potentially hazardous cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, chromium, barium, beryllium and brominated flame-retardant components that can pollute water and air resources without proper disposal or recycling. E-waste did not even exist as a waste stream in 1989 and now it's one of the largest and growing exponentially. Michigan law requires manufacturers and distributors of electronic products to provide free and convenient recycling options for consumers.

Dell Reconnect teams up with Goodwill to provide recycling options for computers and TVs. The State Electronics Challange provides helpful information about reducing the environmentl impact of computers throughout their life. Retailers such as, Best Buy and Staples often offer periodic collections for the electronic products they sell. For other recycling and reuse resources, refer to Earth911 or call you local recycling contact.

Protect your privacy by removing your data from whatever you're donating or recycling with these handy tips.

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The improper disposal of unused and outdated medicine is a growing threat in our medicine chests. Pharmaceutical abuse is on the rise and improper disposal is a threat to Michigan's fresh water. Old medicines should not be flushed nor, if possible, disposed in a landfill. Convenient collection programs will hold old pharmaceuticals until they can be transported to a certified hazardous waste incinerator. The Product Stewardship Institute provides a variety of links and resources for proper pharmaceutical disposal in Michigan. Product stewardship legislation requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to support and/or provide for the proper use and disposal of old medicines is being explored in other areas of the U.S. Call your local recycling contact for help taking care of your old medicines.

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A product stewardship approach to paper and plastic packaging would require product manufacturers to play a role in the end-of-life management of the materials. This could result in voluntary efforts by manufacturers and their trade associations to directly educate and support more robust and successful recycling programs. Mandatory, or extended producer responsibility, efforts might translate into state dictated recycling goals that more equitably distribute the cost of end-of-life management of the material that ends up in our recycling bins. Learn more about packaging product stewardship.