The Influence of Extended Producer Responsibility on Eco-Design Practices: Insights from Six Producer Case Studies in the European ICT Sector
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Background: E-waste constitutes an increasing problem due to its growing amount and its hazardous substances content, and stands diametrically opposed to an increasing resource scarcity. In response, the EU introduced the WEEE Directive, which embraces the market-based policy principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR requires electronics manufacturers to take their products back and organise proper end-of-life management. The assumption that this would promote eco-design practices, as manufacturers have an incentive to design products that are easier to treat and recycle, is contested in the academic literature. Particular disagreement concerns the question if producers have to fulfil their responsibility individually or may also choose a collective approach. Method: This thesis aims to enrich the discussion of EPR by empirical insights from in the ICT sector. To this end, six producers were examined through a qualitative multiple case study approach: Dell, HP, LG, Nokia, Philips, and Sony. The case studies are largely based on expert interviews with company representatives; additional information was gathered from company websites, annual and CSR reports, white papers, available case studies and NGO reports. Results: The examined producers adopt different approaches of EPR compliance. While all producers rely on collective systems, some run additional individual schemes in order to gain competitive edge. Three feedback loops from end-of-life management to the production phase are identified, by which EPR can potentially influence eco-design. Informational feedback is found to have the strongest influence, followed by financial feedback. Material feedback loops are hardly established, which suggests that EPR does not contribute significantly to the closure of material loops. Furthermore, seven eco-design strategies with end-of-life relevance are identified. The examined producers are particularly active with regards to conducting measures that reduce the waste treatment costs, as well as increasing their use of recycled materials. Strategies to reduce the volume of WEEE are conducted by half of the sample, and strategies that promise to increase the amount of recovered materials are the least relevant. Conclusions: The findings of this thesis suggest that EPR, as implemented in the WEEE Directive, positively affects eco-design. Next to the identified feedback loops, EPR promotes eco-design through several mediate effects. The principle has raised awareness of the e-waste problem and contributed to a shifting mindset among ICT producers.