Plastics and Responsibility
Though these plastic forks may only be used for a few minutes, they will last much longer. Should their producer be responsible for ensuring their proper disposal and reducing waste? Or is that role better left to someone else?
The Case of Plastics is a big topic. When we began to discuss directions for the game, the choices seemed endless. In an effort to find a framework that would incorporate most, if not all, possible interest groups and allow the students to consider a wide range of issues, we decided on the concept of extended producer responsibility, or EPR.
Simply stated, EPR makes producers responsible for the entire life cycle of their products. The concept is popular because it is deceptively simple; basically, if you made it, you have to clean it up. But the reality is much more complex. What does responsibility mean? What do producers have to do? Who is the producer? How can a producer ensure consumers return products for recovery? These are only a few of the questions posed in the EPR debate, and every interested party answers them differently. The range of possible interpretations made EPR the perfect choice for The Case of Plastics.
Versions of EPR have been implemented in Europe and in Canada but not in the United States. In the game students will debate a hypothetical regulation for implementing EPR in this country. Though EPR can be applied to any number of materials, our scenario focuses solely on the regulation of plastic. Beyond that one limitation, however, we hope to address as many interpretations and opinions of EPR as possible.
Some argue that EPR should apply only to disposable packaging, the model applied in Europe. Others argue that all plastic materials should be subject to EPR, while some feel that placing responsibility on the producer is unfair and inefficient. EPR could also require producers to engage in environmental cleanup, scientifically prove the safety of their products, develop environmentally friendly alternatives to certain materials, or invest in better recovery infrastructure.
Our hypothetical question is not whether the United States should adopt EPR, but, if it does, what would it mean and how would it work? It is in that grey area that The Case of Plastics debate will occur.