How can an EPR system be set up?
From voluntary to mandatory
At first a voluntary preparatory organisation created by private sector actors can initiate a recycling process itself and thereby gain experience in management of an EPR system. Meanwhile a legal framework for a mandatory EPR system should be developed in collaboration of relevant stakeholder e.g., the voluntary preparatory organisation, companies, or municipalities. A regulatory framework for a mandatory EPR scheme is needed because it enforces compliance and funding. The information in the text of the legislation must be clear and concise so that implementation is simple. The regulatory text should address aspects such as the roles and tasks of the different actors in the system or sanctions for non-compliance. As soon as the development of a legal framework is completed, the mandatory EPR system can be implemented. The former voluntary preparatory organisation can be transformed into a mandatory PRO. The system and individual mechanisms should be constantly optimised and adapted to changes in the legal situation, product design and experience gained in implementing the system.
Instalment of a register of obliged companies
One of the first steps in a mandatory system is the instalment of a register of all obliged companies in order ensure that every company fulfils its responsibilities. This increases transparency and decreases the likelihood of free riders. The PRO, as depicted in the figure, becomes an independent organisation, to which the producers, suppliers and PRO report their EPR activities and their comply with the regulations.
Depending on the EPR system an organisation, a PRO or a government agency is responsible for the establishment and the administration of the register. If PROs are in competition with each other, it would be beneficial to have an independent or a governmental organisation to maintain the register. However, if there is only one PRO or if several PROs do not compete, the register can be administered by a PRO itself. The register should contain, for example, the company’s name, address, identity number and information about the products, which the company introduces to the market.
Collection of waste
Depending on the regulatory framework either a public agency or a PRO organizes the collection of waste. The advantages of having a public body do the collection are that all the waste (such as organic waste) is collected by one organisation. But the disadvantage is that the PRO being responsible for recycling cannot influence the quantity and quality of the collection. If a PRO is responsible for the collection, it contracts a waste-management-company for the collection. Here, the PRO can exert a major influence on the quantity and quality of collection. However, the local authority needs to be involved as a point of contact for the residents.
Usually, a kerbside or a bring system is installed for waste disposal. In the former, the waste is picked up directly from the consumer's home whereas in a bring system the consumer is supposed to bring the waste to a central collection area. From those points the waste transported with vehicles to a sorting facility directly or to an interim distribution centre.Depending on the regulatory framework either a public agency or a PRO organizes the collection of waste. The advantages of having a public body do the collection are that all the waste (such as organic waste) is collected by one organisation. But the disadvantage is that the PRO being responsible for recycling cannot influence the quantity and quality of the collection. If a PRO is responsible for the collection, it contracts a waste-management-company for the collection. Here, the PRO can exert a major influence on the quantity and quality of collection. However, the local authority needs to be involved as a point of contact for the residents.
Organisation of waste sorting
The next step in the recycling process is the sorting of waste. In low- and middle-income countries this is mostly done manually because just a low investment in basic reliable technical equipment is needed and it is easy for workers. Due to its labour intensity manual sorting creates jobs. However, a drawback of manual sorting is limited in the quantity and quality of sorting in comparison to an automated system. Nowadays, sorting machines can sort waste in a highly differentiated and almost automated manner. From here, the sorted materials can be forwarded directly for recycling.
It is crucial to ensure a high-quality recycling starting right at the source. If consumers separate plastic, residual and organic waste properly, the easier and cost-efficient the recycling process can be. The higher the quality of the sorted waste, the better materials can be reused. High-quality plastic can be transformed into a recyclate whereas materials of poorer quality can be recycled for energy.
The role of the informal sector
Particularly in low- and middle-income countries the informal sector is essential for the waste management system as it is labour-intensive, and the entry requirements are low. Therefore, people who want to supplement their income tend to work in this field. The informal sector participates in all steps of the recycling process, but most of all in the collection of waste. One example are recyclables collectors who buy reusable from households and sell them to flea shops. In comparison to them, material pickers collect recyclable waste from streets or landfill sites. There exist also informal companies, which function as a middleman in buying and selling reusable waste. However, those labourers work in severe working condition with irregular income.
By integrating the informal sector in a solid waste management system, informal workers gain various benefits such as better working conditions, regular income and an access to a social security system. Informal workers and companies can take part in form of micro-enterprise, cooperative or a franchise of a waste management company.