Extended Producer Responsibility, Inclusion and Product Design

What is extended producer responsibility

Every country in the world is dealing with waste management issues at various levels. Different strategies have been developed and implemented by governments to help with reducing waste generation within their countries. One of such strategy is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR gives the producers, importers and brand owners the responsibility of reducing the environmental impact of their products and packaging from conception, design, production, distribution, usage and disposal – It is Cradle to Grave product management approach. It emphasis is on waste reduction, recovery, recycling and reuse.

Understanding the disparities in your target markets

Having a wonderful product that causes havoc on the environment is a problem. It is the responsibility of companies to ensure their products are not solving a problem in one area and causing a new problem elsewhere. With the era of globalization, there is easy spread of products across national borders and cultures. Companies are taking advantage of opportunities globalization present and are maximizing profits by selling their products to multitudes of people, living in different countries in different continents. It should be noted that these countries are operating at varying levels of economic growth – developing and developed implying that each country’s institutional and technological capacity is different. Using waste management as an example, developed countries have better waste management structures and technologies in operation than developing countries. This is because countries like – Canada, Europe, USA etc. with industrialization have had centuries of experience dealing with the contents of the waste streams (metal cans, plastics, e-waste, paper, tires, styrofoam and so on) considering they invented them and are ingrained in their culture, known to be wasteful. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea etc. are still having difficulty understanding and dealing with this waste stream alien to their culture, coming into their countries everyday and which they also produce.  With EPR at play, companies should consider these countries when designing products for their market.

Designing products specific to your target market

I took a LinkedIn course by John Maeda on design business and inclusion. I learnt that a well designed product is an extra value add that is a result of a lot of thinking, and making, and iterating, so that those raw materials used are now 10 times more valuable when combined to form a product. Making better products for a broader population requires thinking about diversity and inclusion and with diversity comes varied people and cultures. I also learnt that the use of personas of imagined “Bobs’, ‘Glendas’ and ‘Johns’, though current best practice in the design world is doing a disservice to product design. According to John, with personas you don’t really know the people. You end up distancing yourself from the consumer and missing opportunities to ask the right questions that will enable the design of great products that meet their needs.

Applying this teaching to EPR, with Nigeria as case study

Nigeria has a serious waste disposal problem and is causing a lot of ill health among its people and the environment. Nigeria lacks the necessary institutional and technological capacity to adequately manage its waste. In Lagos, heaps of waste can be found in markets, homes, waterways, streets and motorways.  The amount of waste is increasing at an astonishing rate. Looking at the waste stream, you can easily identify products from different brands. A company, we will call Company A has identified Nigeria will be a viable market for its product. Company A, while doing its market research from within the country, has also noted the poor waste disposal culture and the inability of the government to implement sustainable programs that address this issue. One of the goals of Company A should be to design a product with packaging that doesn’t add to the already existing waste problem of the country. In carrying out the life cycle analysis of its intended product, Company A should ensure that at every stage – cradle to grave, the product has minimal to zero impact on the environment and if needed create take- back schemes that will ensure its product never gets into the waste stream.

In conclusion

Companies that give equal consideration to their product’s environmental, social (well being of the people) and economic impacts on their target markets will succeed in meeting the requirement of making well designed products. Such companies will thrive. For there to be any hope of reducing or eliminating waste generation across the globe, companies need to take environmental protection strategies like EPR seriously. Governments need to legislate and develop adequate programs. The people within those countries that have strategies like EPR, need to understand EPR and its benefit and hold these companies accountable for waste generated from their products. A degraded environment can only produce poison and no one is spared.

Obie Agusiegbe
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