From The Resource Journal of the Office of Environmental Assistance
Winter/Spring 1999 [] [off-site]

Product stewardship:
new policy direction for Minnesota

Last modified: March 22, 2019

Imagine that you’re sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon watching the football game, when the television fizzles out. You try to get it repaired, but it’s shot. Now what?

If you live in Minneapolis, you can set the broken TV out at the curb to be picked up with your recyclables. If you live in St. Paul, you might hold on to it until the next neighborhood collection event. Otherwise, you will probably haul it down to the basement, or throw it in a dumpster. The problem is that your old TV contains heavy metals such as lead and plastics with chemical additives and coatings, not to mention potentially recyclable materials.

The OEA is proposing a policy that would provide citizens with a different option, one that seeks to protect the environment and public health through the reduction of toxicity in products, but is also economically efficient since it does not rely on spending taxpayer dollars for recycling and proper disposal. That policy is product stewardship.

Product stewardship means that all parties who have a role in designing, producing, selling or using a product assume responsibility for the environmental impacts of the product throughout its life-cycle. These impacts can occur in the selection of raw materials, the design and production processes, and in the use and disposal of a product.

Product stewardship shifts the responsibility and costs for managing products at the disposal stage from the general taxpayer to the manufacturers and consumers of those products. Internalizing those "end-of-life" management costs into the costs of producing products provides incentives for manufacturers to think differently about resources and materials, so that recycling, reuse and toxicity reduction are considered at the product design stage.

Such an approach to managing products at end-of-life is not new in Minnesota. For example, Minnesota has a law requiring the manufacturers of rechargeable nickle-cadmium batteries or products containing those batteries to take responsibility for the costs of collecting and managing waste batteries to ensure that they do not enter the waste stream. Battery purchasers are responsible for returning old batteries to the collection points, which include retail stores and Minnesota’s household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities.

The OEA is proposing that the state establish a consistent product stewardship policy to address a number of growing concerns. These concerns include a waste generation rate that is increasing at twice the population growth rate, and the increasing costs to local governments, citizens and businesses of handling waste products in an environmentally-sound manner.

The county solid waste facilities and HHW collection programs perform a valuable service by recovering materials that can be recycled and reused, and by keeping products with toxic constituents out of the waste stream. However, the cost of collecting and managing certain products at the HHW facilities has increased by 45 percent over the last five years.

In 1997, Minnesota counties spent more than $7 million to collect discarded products such as fluorescent light bulbs, waste paint, waste cleaning products and pesticides, batteries and old television sets. In 1998, Hennepin County expects to collect nearly 30,000 discarded televisions and computer monitors, and spend more than $350,000 to recycle and manage them properly.

In response to these issues, the OEA is recommending to the Legislature that the state adopt a product stewardship framework, which would establish the principles of product stewardship in statute and outline the state’s expectations for the design, production, use and disposal of products.

The OEA is also recommending that specific requirements be adopted for priority products. Priority products would be selected based on criteria such as toxic and/or hazardous constituents and the economic burden on the state or local governments to manage products upon disposal.

The main requirement in the OEA’s proposal is that manufacturers of priority products would have to ensure that purchasers and users of the product have the opportunity to discard products in a way that keeps them out of the wastestream.The proposal maintains flexibility for manufacturers to decide how to provide those opportunities. Manufacturers also would need to inform each purchaser of the methods or system available to them for discarding products.

The OEA’s proposal includes recommendations for state assistance to manufacturers and product purchasers toward meeting the goal of keeping priority products out of the waste stream. Possible areas in which the state could provide assistance are consumer education, market development for priority products, and financial assistance for product design initiatives. The OEA is also working with several manufacturers and recyclers to develop pilot projects to test collection and recycling methods and costs for priority products.

For more information, contact Tricia Conroy at 651-215-0261, or e-mail her at

The principles of product stewardship

1. Product stewardship requires all parties who have a role in designing, producing, selling or using a product or product component to assume responsibility for achieving the following goals:

  • Reduce or eliminate the toxic and/or hazardous constituents of products and product components, and reduce the toxicity and amount of waste that results from the use and disposal of products.
  • Use materials, energy and water efficiently at every stage of a product’s life cycle, including product manufacture, distribution, sale, use and recovery.
  • Increase resource conservation by instituting practices which result in sustainable use of materials and increase the reuse, recycling and recovery of materials.

2. The greater the ability of a party to influence the life-cycle impacts of the product, the greater the degree of responsibility the party has for addressing those impacts.

3. Those who have a role in designing, producing, selling or using products will have flexibility in determining how to reduce toxic and/or hazardous constituents in products and keep materials from becoming waste.

4. The costs of recovering resources and managing products at the end of life shall be internalized into the costs of producing and selling products, so that those costs are not borne by the general taxpayers.

5. Government shall provide leadership in product stewardship in all its activities, including, but not limited to, promoting product stewardship in purchasing products, capital investments in buildings and infrastructure, procuring services, and end-of-life management.

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