Exploring diverse approaches to EPR in Latin America

How does the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility legislation differ among Latin American jurisdictions, and what are the main differences?  

NidiaCalvoMendez

by Nidia Mariana Calvo Méndez

Waste management is an increasingly significant environmental issue. As global consumption rises, so does the volume of packaging waste, causing governments everywhere to take notice. The result is the development of policies on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The United States and European Union were among the first jurisdictions to introduce regulations governing this issue, but others have since followed suit, including those across Latin America. 

What is EPR?

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy approach that makes producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products. This includes design, take-back, recycling, and final disposal of both the products and their packaging.  

Although EPR originated in the electronics and electronic equipment sector, the latest EPR programs affect a much wider range of sectors, driven by the aims in governments to develop circular economies. This also means that EPR legislation does not target just one single point within a supply chain. Instead, its impact is far-reaching, covering the environmental characteristics of both products and production processes throughout the entire supply chain.  

EPR legislation therefore places responsibility for packaging and managing waste firmly on the producer, and not solely on packaging manufacturers. 

What’s the EPR challenge?

The most obvious challenge of EPR is a lack of shared agreement between governments on what should and shouldn’t be included in related regulations. Rules and requirements may vary significantly across regions, and even between states and provinces in a single country. Take the EU, for example. Individual countries have adopted different approaches so that requirements on labeling around recycling in France and Spain vary considerably. For companies looking to ensure compliance, such variations are complex to manage, particularly when they operate globally.  

Waste management in Latin America

Latin America is another region where key differences exist. The issue of waste management has been an important one for regulatory authorities for some years now. Latin American governments first started to look at EPR and implement related programs in the 1990s. The situation now is that there are plenty of regulations covering EPR in the region, but only a few systems are really operating—and the variations between them are considerable, as the table below illustrates.  

Key variations across Latin America

A chart showing the adoption of Extended Producer Responsibility regulations in Latin American countries

EPR implementation in Latin America (as of January 2024)

Colombia was the first country in the region to introduce regulations in 2005, closely followed by Mexico in 2006. Because of its earlier start, Colombia now has the most comprehensive regulations of any country, covering all possible categories of waste. However, its EPR system has only really been operational since 2021.  

Mexico and Chile have the second-most comprehensive coverage, only missing one area each; used oils in Mexico and lighting in Chile.

Shared responsibility: Mexico and Brazil

Approaches across countries vary too. Mexico and Brazil have a shared product responsibility system. This means producers are not considered solely responsible for managing waste associated with their products. In many cases, they are not even the lead body or entity.

Instead, the overall management of waste is the shared responsibility of producers, consumers, users, distributors and even government representatives in some cases. So, all participants in the lifecycle of a product are seen to have some responsibility and are expected to act on that.

This approach has some obvious strengths, in that everyone must play their part. However, it also potentially allows responsibility to be shuffled around the product lifecycle—and ultimately this may mean that nobody takes responsibility. 

EPR in Chile

The Chilean EPR model is very close to the approach used in Europe. It provides solid regulations making waste pickers a strategic stakeholder with rights and obligations.

It is also one of the newest systems in the region. The Recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility Law came into force in May 2016. The law requires manufacturers and importers of six different priority products—tires, packaging, used oils, lighting, electronics and electronic equipment, and batteries—to work together to deliver sound waste management for their products. 

EPR in Colombia

Colombia’s EPR system has operated since 2021 and is incorporated into the implementation of the circular economy within the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. EPR is seen as the principle that will allow producers to be accountable for the impact of their products throughout their lifecycle.  

The priority products identified under this initiative include medicines, lead-based batteries, regular batteries, light bulbs, computers and peripherals, pesticides, tires, used oils and packaging materials. All of these are covered by at least one established regulation that sets out the roles and responsibilities of the different participants within the product lifecycle. 

Keeping up with EPR requirements

Keeping abreast of such a range of EPR requirements is a real challenge for any business operating in Latin America and in many other regions too. Simply understanding what is required is an issue—and ensuring compliance is quite another question.  

At Enhesa Product, our experts have been hearing over and over again from customers struggling to navigate the complexity of global packaging and EPR requirements. In response, Enhesa Product has now developed a new Packaging EPR Global Regulatory Comparison tool, which is available as part of the Focused Compliance Solution. 

This tool provides clarity on the meaning of different rules. Essentially, it extracts all the key requirements in any given jurisdiction, and presents them in a single straightforward report. It also provides a way to compare quickly and easily across jurisdictions, to ensure that businesses can manage requirements across all the countries in which they operate.

At the risk of making a bad pun, it helps companies unpack global packaging rules, and cut through the complexity! 

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