Global Trends in EPR Schemes for e-Waste and Packaging

Global Studies Reveal That EPR Increases Recycling Rates 

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” – we’ve all heard the saying before, but many of us still struggle to make recycling part of our everyday lives. That’s why many nations, including South Africa, have implemented Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws to get private companies involved and make recycling easier for everyone. Successful EPR can boost recycling rates, create jobs, and help us preserve the planet and feed our economy.


What is an EPR Scheme? 

EPR laws hold businesses responsible for the waste their products create at every stage of their lives, from design to distribution to disposal. Complying with EPR laws means implementing a scheme to recycle packaging materials and the products themselves once your customers have finished with them.

Your EPR scheme should include details about how you plan to collect and recycle used products and packaging from your customers. It outlines how you’re funding the process and which recycling companies or independent recyclers you work with. In South Africa, EPR applies to packaging, paper, lighting, electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).

Two Ingredients for Successful EPR 

EPR has been around since the 1990s, and there are many global examples we can follow to ensure successful implementation and maximum recycling rates. Various case studies highlight that most strong EPR systems worldwide share two important aspects:

  • Private Funding 

There are many costs associated with EPR. Somebody has to pay for collecting and sorting recyclable materials, awareness and training campaigns, and the admin from start to finish. Studies show that when producers take full responsibility for funding, EPR schemes are more successful and recycling rates increase.

Producers are product manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, or retailers. Businesses can offer more reliable funding for EPR than taxpayers and municipalities with limited budgets.

  • Industry-Run PROs 

Sometimes, collecting, sorting, and recycling used goods and packaging is not economical or practical, especially for smaller businesses. That’s why successful EPR systems allow producers to join forces and fulfil their EPR obligations as a group through producer responsibility organisations (PROs). 

PROs can help individual producers connect with more recyclers and run far-reaching take-back schemes to increase their recycling rates. They help centralise a country’s recycling system and ensure it meets its EPR targets. While some government-run PROs exist, they are usually less successful than private ones because they are more vulnerable to corruption.

Take-Back Schemes are an Important Part of EPR

One of the biggest challenges of EPR is getting your used products back after people throw them away. That’s where take-back schemes come in. A take-back scheme is a project manufacturers and/or retailers run to collect used products or packaging from customers. It gives people the opportunity to return a pre-loved item or empty container to the producer instead of throwing it away.

Producers that run take-back schemes sell the materials they collect to recyclers. Sometimes, a recycling company can help a business make new products out of those recycled materials. For example, Coca-Cola’s Bottle-to-Bottle programme, which turns empty Coke bottles into brand-new ones. 

Many take-back programmes offer people cash, vouchers, or other rewards for bringing used products back to the shop.

How Take-Back Schemes Boost Recycling Rates

Take-back schemes give people a reason to recycle their old products and empty packaging. Knowing you’ll be rewarded when you return something to the shop might make you think twice before throwing it away. The more people participate in take-back schemes, the fewer recyclables end up in landfills.

Take-back schemes also make recycling easier for people who want to recycle but don’t know how or where to take their materials. Businesses handle the storage, transport, and sorting for you, which can be helpful for families with limited space or people who live in remote areas.

Examples of Take-Back Schemes in South Africa

Have you ever heard of the milkman? Returning empty glass bottles may not be the norm anymore, but there are many new ways to recycle packaging and old products. Here are some popular take-back programmes (by industry) that aim to boost recycling in South Africa:  

  • Clothes:

Fashion trends come and go, and the clothing industry causes massive amounts of waste. Thankfully, many brands are committing to sustainability with take-back programmes for used clothes. H&M and Levi’s offer store credit when you drop your unwanted garments in their collection boxes, encouraging people to donate and recycle. 

These retailers donate your used clothes to deserving charities, and H&M turns damaged garments into new fabrics for its sustainable clothing range.

  • Cosmetics: 

Most make-up and skin care products have unique packaging that can be difficult or impossible to recycle. It often includes mixed materials such as glass mirrors, plastic casing, and metal elements, which need careful separation for successful recycling. 

MAC Cosmetics, Lush, L’Occitane, and Kiehl’s collect used lipstick tubes, eyeshadow pots, lotion tubs, and more in exchange for free products. These brands send the empty packaging to recycling plants where it’s melted down and remoulded into new containers. 

  • Electrical and Electronic Equipment: 

South Africa’s new EPR regulations ask Electrical and Electronic Equipment brands to reduce their waste by repairing, repurposing, or recycling used devices. Samsung and iStore offer discounts on new phones, laptops, and other gadgets for customers who trade in their old devices at the shop. The brands ensure privacy and security by data-wiping all the trade-ins.

It’s not only smart devices – Canon runs a similar programme for printer cartridges, allowing people to return the empty ones to the store for recycling.

  • Packaging: 

Everyday packaging such as boxes, bags, and bottles are valuable resources for recyclers. Some Pick n Pay and Spar branches have reverse vending machines where you can drop your recyclables for grocery or airtime vouchers. Pick n Pay also collects green plastic bottles from drinks like Sprite and turns them into fabric grocery bags.

Set Up a Take-Back Scheme and Start Recycling

Take-back schemes have many other benefits beyond recycling. They can help you build your brand image, increase customer loyalty, and recover valuable raw materials to slash production costs. Joining a PRO can make setting one up simpler. 

eWASA is a trusted PRO for many leading South African businesses – email us at to find out how we can help you.


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