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CARBON REMOVAL

Carbon removal is the process by which humans actively and intentionally remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in longer-lived reservoirs.

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EPR

EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) is an environmental policy strategy that makes producers responsible for managing the waste from their products or packages when they are discarded. 

Extended Producer Responsibility, or EPR, is an environmental policy strategy that makes producers responsible for managing the waste from their products or packages when they are discarded.  Historically, in most places either local governments or waste generators—households, businesses, and organizations—have borne that responsibility. EPR can be solely a financial arrangement where producers provide funds to local governments to cover the cost of recycling or an operational arrangement where producers organize (and pay for) the collection and processing of recyclables. EPR is typically applied to packaging and e-waste, but, in some places, it used to manage batteries, tires, paper, used motor oil, cars, medication, and even mattresses and carpet.

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Reid Lifset

Research Scholar & Resident Fellow

Yale School of the Environment

Editor-in-Chief

Journal of Industrial Ecology

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Maybe a graph or visual showing what materials fall under EPR programs in various regions?

Europe and Japan are leaders in the use of EPR. For over a decade, the European Union has required countries to use EPR for products like e-waste, batteries, cars, and – most recently – for packaging.

 

In the US and Canada, EPR is used at the state or provincial level, rather than through their federal governments.

Why Do EPR?​

EPR has (at least) two motivations:

  1. To provide incentives to producers to design their products and packages in a way that improves environmental performance

  2. To shift the cost of waste management from local governments to producers.

 

It is very difficult to know whether changes in product or package design have resulted from EPR because it is difficult to determine whether such changes arise from assignment of responsibility to producers or from other factors such as changes in material costs, corporate efforts at enhanced reputation, or other regulations. In addition, in nearly all EPR systems, producers have complied with EPR obligations by joining a producer responsibility organization (PRO) which organizes waste collection and processing on their behalf. Producers typically pay PROs for their services according to the producer’s market share of the relevant product. This simplifies logistics and operations for the producers, but the fees are not tied to the recyclability of the relevant product. As a result, EPR generally does not generally generate financial incentives for eco-design.

However, EPR has led to significant increases in funding for recycling, expansion of recycling infrastructure and services, and increases in recycling rates. The exact increases are difficult to quantify for the same reasons that the impact of EPR on product and packaging design is hard to determine—there are many factors in play.

Predictably, producers often oppose EPR because they do not want to bear the cost of waste management. On the other hand, local governments generally support EPR because it reduces their costs, though the level of support may depend on the degree to which they maintain control of the local waste system.

What is an example of EPR in practice?

The Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) is well known in recycling circles for its history of assigning full responsibility for the management of wastes to producers. The EPR system is run primarily by producers and is output-focused, meaning collection targets are set by the provincial government, but the government does not mandate a particular way for industry to achieve the targets.

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Source: britannica.com

BC’s EPR system applies to paper, plastic, steel, aluminium, and glass packaging, while separate EPR systems manage beverage containers and newsprint. A non-profit organization, Recycle British Columbia (RBC), collects fees from producers for the paper and packaging they place on the market and organizes the collection and recycling of municipal packaging within the province.

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Packaging producers based in BC as well as those that import packaging into BC are legally obligated to sign up as “stewards” and join the RBC. Stewards pay fees according to the weight of packaging they put on the market. Producers have the option to report the packaging they place on the market by type, (e.g., steel aerosol cans or clear glass), or to pay a flat rate based on the total weight of packaging of all types they place on the market.

RBC is required by law to submit an annual report to the BC Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy on the collection and recycling rates it achieves each year. These reports must also be posted publicly and verified by a third party to ensure the recycling rates and end destinations of recycled materials reported are accurate.

The EPR scheme for paper and packaging was enacted in 2011 and implemented in 2014. Recovery rates are high—85.8% across all targeted materials in 2020—but that may be due to due to COVID-19 which increased generation of household waste and boosted opportunities for recycling. Recent policy changes are expanding the scope of items collected to include “packaging like” and “single-use” products which will include items such as paper lunch bags and aluminium foil. Because it is the first fully producer-led EPR system for packaging in Canada, policy makers and industry observers are watching BC carefully to see if its EPR strategy continues to produce strong results.

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How do carbon offsets actually work?

As a market-based mechanism, carbon offsets can be bought, sold and traded before they are retired to meet a reduction goal. There are many steps that are taken along the way to ensure that any purchased carbon offset truly limits or reduces the emission of GHGs. Below is a summary of the key steps taken for a carbon offset project to get off the ground and sell credits to institutions across the world:

STEP 1:
PROJECT IDENTIFICATION

An organization recognizes an opportunity to reduce or remove GHGs. These projects typically require additional funding to get started. For example, a forestland owner could realize they can preserve more CO2-in their trees than harvesting the timber, or a landfill owner could, with some financial support, place carbon-capturing devices on anaerobic digesters.

Why can carbon offsets sometimes be controversial?

Although carbon offsets provide an opportunity for individuals and institutions across the world to help reduce the global GHG footprint, they can be complex to administer and draw criticism. The Offsets Guide highlights that there are two primary criticisms of carbon offsets:

1. PAYING INSTEAD OF DOING

Many are concerned with the fact that companies can take credit for emission reductions instead of changing their GHG emission practices. For instance, some are fundamentally opposed to the notion of Company A claiming to be net zero, even though it is emitting 40,000 tons of GHGs onsite. Although Company A still emits GHGs into the atmosphere, the purchase of real, verified carbon offsets suggests that somewhere else, an equivalent of 40,000 tons of GHGs are being sequestered. Theoretically, Company A is making strides to use more renewable energy sources and ultimately be net zero onsite. Carbon offsets are a tool it can use to help it along the way.

 

“I don't think that offsets should be solely relied on to fight climate change, and they really can't be,” Strayhorn adds. “Climate change is too big of an issue and the reductions that we need are much greater than offsets alone could provide – we also need significant carbon reduction, removal and storage. But when it comes to the current regulatory and incentivization framework within our own government system, we just aren't at a place where we could shift to one-hundred percent green energy tomorrow. In the interim, offsets are the bridge to the permanent solution.” As such, many organizations use carbon offsets to complement their in-house efforts to reduce their GHGs.

2. PROJECT CREDIBILITY

Although offsets projects must be verified and monitored using scientifically rigorous protocols and standards, many still express concerns about the legitimacy of some offsetting projects or of the standards themselves. Some claim that the projects are not truly limiting the release of GHGs into the atmosphere, or doing anything other than business as usual. For instance, a project could have limited the emission of GHGs without the financial incentive of carbon offsets; or the calculated number of generated carbon offsets from a project might be biased so credits are over-issued. Several environmental researchers have found flawed carbon offsets projects that do not truly produce valid offsets (Alexeew et al. 2010, Cames et al. 2016, or Haya and Parekh, 2012). It is important to thoroughly inspect any carbon offsets you consider purchasing to ensure that this concern does not arise. See below on where to start.

There are several different types of carbon offsets projects, reducing emissions in four key ways:

  1. Providing infrastructure to produce clean, renewable energy in regions where it is not already prevalent;

  2. Reducing emissions in industrial processes;

  3. Destroying greenhouse gases before they are emitted into the atmosphere; and/or

  4. Removing and storing GHGs, preventing them from being released into the atmosphere.

Each individual project is governed by a different set of standards, protocols, and verification requirements. Additionally, prices for carbon offsets tend to vary for each of the different project types. 

What types of projects are supported by carbon offsets?

Example Carbon Offset Projects

Laurelbrook Farm Dairy Manure Advanced Separation Project: Livestock Methane

East Canaan, CT

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Source: progressivedairy.com

This dairy farm seeks to limit the release of methane from cow manure. This project adds wood chips to manure solids to create compost, which permanently prevents methane from being emitted.

Where can I find some additional information or guidance on Carbon Offsets?
The following list of sources is not comprehensive, but a good starting point:

Registries

Links to prominent carbon offset registries:

Developers

A starting point for carbon offset project developers:

Retailers & Brokers

Carbon retailers and brokers that help with the financial services, trading, and markets: