by Riyana Razalee
What is Extended Producer Responsibility?
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), an extension of product stewardship, is the transfer of responsibility and cost of recycling from local governments to product manufacturers and packaging producers. Historically, EPR policies have been the norm in Europe since the 1990’s but since then, it has spread across all continents. In the US, thirty-three states have EPR laws that cover products that are hard to recycle or are deemed hazardous, such as pesticide containers, refrigerants, electronics, solar panels, paint, etc.
In July 2021, the US reached a significant milestone when Maine signed the country’s first EPR bill related to packaging. Packaging makes up approximately 40% of Maine’s waste stream and as such, a packaging-specific EPR policy would undoubtedly help the state’s long-standing 50% recycling goal. In August 2021, Oregon became the second state in the US to sign off on their packaging bill. If successful, this could trigger a slew of additional packaging bills, in addition to the nine state-level and one federal-level EPR bills that are currently under consideration. But how is this relevant to the controlled environment agriculture industry?
Closed Loop Agriculture & ERPs
Packaging pollution can only be stopped if there is a fundamental shift in design, products, and business models. Changes such as technological advancements and economies of scale will help the CEA industry achieve this. However, if we take a more realistic approach, in order to ensure an ongoing and measured waste management process, sufficient funding is still necessary. This is where mandatory, fee-based schemes such as EPR become useful.
By transferring the cost of recycling to product manufacturers, EPR policies can help companies in the CEA industry increase their recycling rates as well as drive more demand for environmentally sustainable products and packaging. More importantly though, it could serve as a catalyst for CEA companies to ask themselves if they’re contributing towards or reducing their carbon footprint. Behind the EPR model, we need to understand the mechanism that will not just support waste reduction, but also grow this type of business mindset. For us, closed loop agriculture is it.
"More importantly though, it could serve as a catalyst for CEA companies to ask themselves if they’re contributing towards or reducing their carbon footprint. Behind the EPR model, we need to understand the mechanism that will not just support waste reduction, but also grow this type of business mindset. For us, closed loop agriculture is it."
As a fairly new industry, CEA is a prime candidate for businesses that want to go 100% closed loop. It may actually still be possible to design business models that practice strict packaging recirculation or recycling. The idea is simple, but it would be remiss of us to not recognize that the execution is much more complex.
Opportunities for The Controlled Environment Agriculture Industry (CEA)
There are two main opportunities for product stewardship within the CEA industry that we see:
Packaging - For many indoor farms that we work with or have spoken to, irrespective of farm size, packaging remains one of the main focus areas. It’s a low hanging fruit but one that will have a profound impact. The approach taken by many farms has ranged from reusable containers from Dream Harvest to cone-shaped paper packaging by InFarm. In New York City, Farm.One is setting a gold standard through its reusable bags and containers which are delivered to, and picked up a week later from their consumers by bike. In other words, they’re zero waste and closed-loop.
- Agriculture inputs – This is where we see indoor farms really setting themselves apart from those that are just greenwashing to those that are incorporating a closed loop business model from end-to-end. Again, we acknowledge that this requires an entire supply chain to shift, which isn’t the easiest task. However, we challenge indoor farms to use agriculture inputs which are sourced from transparent, waste byproducts as much as possible. Where waste cannot be incorporated back into the production process, is there a way to ensure that the agriculture input can be recycled or composted? Where are there design loopholes and which agriculture input companies can an indoor farm work with to help fill those gaps?
"This is where we see indoor farms really setting themselves apart from those that are just greenwashing to those that are incorporating a closed loop business model from end-to-end. "
As EPRs continue to roll out across the country, instead of viewing it purely from a cost perspective, perhaps this is the perfect time for the CEA industry to redesign their own processes and packaging so that it’s recyclable or reusable, as well as to innovate solutions or work with companies that minimize the environmental impact of their products by adopting technology that reuses waste. Is this a biased perspective on our end? Maybe. But it’s one that we stand by as we’ve seen first-hand how vegetative food waste can be used to create technologies fit for the CEA industry. So, let us know if we can help your indoor farm become product stewards through our range of solutions.