If you look back 20 years, the recycling world was a different place. The 1996 passage of the law (which required all 50 states to adhere to the Universal Waste Rule) marked a milestone in the long journey toward adoption of a federal policy on hazardous waste transportation and disposal.
Manufacturers of products that created hazardous waste, including rechargeable batteries and products containing those batteries, were scrambling to find a way to avoid environmental liability for the disposal of their hazardous waste. Producers deemed in violation of recycling regulations could be severely penalized. Companies had seen firsthand the fallout from being designated as a Superfund site and did not want to be caught in the same position.
At the same time, the idea of industry stewards emerged. Stewards could pool resources to create a program that would responsibly recycle the material they introduced into the marketplace and educate consumers on the programs.
Product stewardship is defined as reducing the impact of products on the environment during their lifecycle by influencing consumer behavior, financing the products’ end of life disposal and improving product design. Industry stewards are the companies that have stepped forward and have committed to at least some aspects of product stewardship by financing and operating programs, often to comply with local, state/provincial and federal mandates that ensure the proper end-of-life disposal of their products.
Role of Industry Stewards
Industry stewards play two important roles in any product stewardship program–voluntary or mandated. First, they help to provide the strategic direction. They provide insights on changing regulatory policies, upcoming legislation, the nuances of the products that they put into the marketplace and related technology advancements.
Stewards also fund the program. For example, in the rechargeable battery recycling industry, Call2Recycle, Inc., the leading consumer battery collection program in North America, collects fees from its stewards based on what they sell into the marketplace. The fees are used to pay the operating costs to collect and responsibly recycle batteries and to improve public awareness of the program. In exchange, stewards place a seal on their batteries and/or battery-powered products and documentation. The fees are used to run the collection operations, promote participation and educate the public.
Stewardship is a complex concept that involves maintaining a delicate balance among stakeholders with different priorities, opposing constraints and diverse definitions of success. These stakeholders include policymakers/non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry stewards and retailers/consumers.