This Sunday morning I was having a cup of tea with diet khakras (Indian crunchy snack) and reading a newspaper. My Professor friend called me.
“Have you got any used tube lights to dispose?”
I didn’t have one in the house (as I use mostly the CFLs) but remembered that my garage had 4 used tube lights of Elips make. I hadn’t figured out how to dispose these used tube lights. My usual kachara lady (waste picker) had not shown much interest.
When I told about this to the Professor – he said – well then, here is a deal for you. Elips Tube lights have an offer – give them your used tube lights and they will give you a brand new free. No strings attached! It is part of Elips Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). There is a tube light collection centre opened at Shivaji Park and today is the deal day between 11 am to 5 pm. Simply rush. Elips wants to demonstrate to the citizens how they care about their used products and about the environment.
I liked the deal and told my wife that I will drive right away to the Shivaji-Park with my used tube lights. I thought of calling a few friends as well. Apparently, you could exchange new tube light with a used tube light of any make. That I thought was very generous gesture by Elips. Professor was to join me later at Barista Coffee shop after the exchange was done.
EPR concept is not new. It’s been around for past two decades and practiced by corporates in the developed world. The idea of EPR was formally introduced by my good friend Thomas Lindquist in 1990 in a report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. In subsequent reports prepared for the Ministry, the following definition of EPR emerged
Extended Producer Responsibility is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of the product
Thomas did his doctoral dissertation on EPR. See http://www.lub.lu.se/luft/diss/tec355.pdf This dissertation is a must read.
There are many examples of successful and impacting EPRs. A very recent report on the status of EPR in EU countries could be seen at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/pdf/target_review/Guidance%20on%20EPR%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf
This report is from Bio Intelligence Service.
EPR is now legislated in many countries and brought into national policy frameworks. See http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/EPR/PolicyLaw/#World for one of the most recent overviews
In India, EPR is often practiced by involving and supporting the informal sector i.e. the waste pickers. This makes Indian case unique. E-waste is one of the most popular waste streams of focus. In 2010 Indian lawmakers passed an e-waste policy that included EPR.
The Indian EPR law requires electronic manufacturers’ partner with recyclers, including the informal sector, by setting up collection centers. This is perhaps the first time in Indian environmental management framework participation of informal sector is written in the law. This should lead to creation of green jobs and support to the livelihoods of the poor.
You may like to read 2007 report commissioned by Greenpeace on India’s E-waste and EPR. See http://escrap.com.ar/descargas/extended-producer-resp-non-OECD.pdf Incidentally, Thomas was one of the authors of this report.
It was again Greenpeace who assessed the extent of EPR actually practiced by the Corporates in the E-Waste sector. This report prepared in 2008 showed that companies that practice take back in other countries did not do so in India. There was clear unevenness. See http://ewasteguide.info/files/take-back-blues_2008_Greenpeace.pdf. Indeed, we need to take a stock of the situation on EPR practiced in India today.
There are other examples of “take back practices” in India. See take back program from Tetrapack India in Bangalore in partnership with a social enterprise http://saahas.org/campaign/tetra-pak-collection-recycling/ . Samsung runs a STAR program (see http://www.samsung.com/in/samsungrecycle/) and so is Dell (see http://www.dell.com/learn/in/en/incorp1/dell-environment-recycling)
When I reached the collection center at Shivaji-Park, I was greeted by Elips Marketing Manager. On collecting 4 of my used Elips tube lights, he handed over to me 4 brand new, slim and efficient 4 new tube lights.
When I was writing my contact details in the fat register kept on the desk, he asked “Sir, do you have a used CFLs? – well if you have then come in next month, as we have a scheme for replacing used CFLs. For a pair of used CFLs, we give you one free! And the used CFLs do not have to be of Elips make”
I was impressed. This is perhaps TEPR I thought i.e. Too much of Extended Producer Responsibility!
I started worrying about the Elips Company. Aren’t they crazy? While environmental stewardship is fine, it cannot be at the cost of business. If Elips starts such campaigns of “take back” on their products, sure they will get bankrupt one day.
When I said all this to Professor at the Barista Coffee shop, he lit his cigar and took a deep puff.
“You know what you just did? You walked to Elips with free raw material to help them make 9 more new tube lights. The amount of mercury in a fluorescent tube light typically varies from 3 to 46 mg, depending on lamp size and age. The kind tube lights you carried may probably contain 30 mg of mercury and the new tube lights that Elips makes the mercury content is close to 3 mg. So Elips on collecting say 1000 used tube lights of high mercury content today will get free mercury good enough to make 10000 low mercury tube lights; plus of course the social good will to boast and a record of EPR delivered”
Oh, I said, I did not realize the underlying “economics” or the “business case” of EPR. Did you advise Elips on this strategy Professor? I couldn’t resist but ask.
Well, I did – at a modest fee! but keep this as a secret. Right now I am advising APson Office Products. The deal will be “bring your used printer and take a new one for free”. Any make will do. The logic of this EPR scheme is to ensure continued consumption of cartridges of APson make. A cartridge today costs one third of the printer and gets consumed on an average once a month. So, we will leverage on our free printer in a very short time. In addition, we are setting up a printer repairs workshop by training the youth (job creation) and provide the refurbished printers to underprivileged schools as CSR”
You are a genius Professor – I said while settling the bill. Indeed it’s a game of make and take!
Cover image sourced from http://www.recyclingbin.com/EcoFriendly.aspx