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The Role of Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO)

September 1, 2022

The Role of Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO)

Producer responsibility organizations are an increasingly important part of modern waste-cycle controls, but what are they, and how do they matter? In this article, we’ll break down:

  • What is a producer responsibility organization?
  • Role of producer responsibility organizations
  • Capability of producer responsibility organizations

What is a producer responsibility organization (PRO)?

A producer responsibility organization is a company or organization set up by manufacturers to help meet their regulatory obligations for reclaiming and recycling waste from products. These organizations are common in electronics-related areas, where used parts are often hazardous and need special disposal techniques.

PROs usually exist separate from the primary company for ease of operations but generally take full responsibility for meeting the parent company’s legal obligations toward recycling. Some PROs work with a single company, while others work for multiple companies within an industry.

PROs are also known as industry exemption companies, third-party organizations, and designated bodies, depending on the area.

Some PROs are more well-known to the public than others. For example, most vehicle battery manufacturers have an aggressive waste management system where people can return old or worn-out batteries when they buy a new one. This setup ensures minimal waste as manufacturers are better equipped to decommission and recycle old car batteries.

Less public-facing PROs operate in areas like retail shipment, where managing pallets and other transportation supplies are critical to their operations and help minimize industry waste. The exact nature of a PRO depends on many factors, so no two operate in the same way.

Role of PRO

The main job of a producer responsibility organization is helping producers meet their legal obligations for recycling and waste management. Cities, states, and entire countries are getting more aggressive about reducing waste, and well-managed programs are a key component of how this happens.

Legal responsibility

Absent legal responsibility, most companies have no specific reason to care about recycling programs or even whether their products are recyclable to start with.

By placing a legal burden on companies, legislators can help ensure more products and packaging are recyclable. It’s much easier to reduce waste when that’s imposed from the beginning as a requirement for any product or project.

PROs are a natural result of this, as they’re dedicated to meeting legal obligations. Companies consider being in a PRO a necessary expense, so PROs don’t have to be profitable. However, companies do want to minimize costs, so they’ll look for ways to make PROs more effective.

Reducing expenses

Outside of reducing costs to companies, PROs can also limit costs for local governments.

One of the major problems here is that governments and taxpayers have been responsible for paying recycling costs for a long time. However, they’ve had little or no control over the manufacturing of products, how easy anything is to recycle, or how much people are buying.

Expecting local governments to manage constantly-increasing recycling costs is unrealistic and impractical. PROs address this by taking on the responsibility and ensuring there’s a smooth, easy way to recycle as much as possible.

Reporting obligations

Most companies dealing with recycling and waste control must report to one or more government agencies. This reporting usually includes things like how much they’re recycling and what they’re doing with the materials. PROs often handle the paperwork on behalf of companies.

Industry recommendations

Outside of their direct responsibilities, PROs often provide advice to participating members in areas like reducing waste or changing components to make things more recyclable.

Legislation leading to the creation of PROs usually includes some kind of recycling target, such as recycling at least 30% of product waste by a particular year. PROs often cooperate with their parent companies to understand these requirements and find a way to make them work.

Public awareness

Finally, PROs often engage in public awareness campaigns to help make sure people know they exist. These are often targeted campaigns. Some may advertise to the public, but others will focus on businesses, owners, and anyone else who may have a stake in the matter.

Capability of PRO

PROs can have different capabilities depending on the regulations that they exist to help meet.

In some cases, PROs may have the ability to leverage fees on companies that aren’t meeting the requirements. This could go to waste management programs, but it could also be collected as a tax. This setup provides a financial incentive for businesses to comply with the PRO.

PROs may also have an opportunity to provide input on infrastructure for recycling. This may involve acquiring warehouses, opening offices, or hiring drivers to transport goods for recycling.

Some PROs will work with existing companies to minimize expenses and redundant services. For example, rather than opening a new recycling center, a PRO may cooperate with an existing facility to increase the types of goods it can accept.

Regardless of structure, PROs often have some form of enforcement capability. Their parent companies don’t particularly like this, but it’s important for ensuring the PRO can work as designed.

Social considerations

PROs can have a positive impact on their communities. Some of these are more obvious than others, like appearances at special events. However, even without that, PROs can help communities look cleaner and more modern.


PROs may have significant reach. They often function across an entire state, as more expansive programs tend to be more cost-effective than limiting them to individual communities. This includes cooperative relationships with private companies and government entities, including some utility providers.


Beyond their other functions, PROs offer a level of protection for participating companies. Those businesses can point to the PRO if there are any problems, providing a central point of responsibility and helping shield the company from liability.

Final thoughts

Producer responsibility organizations are a practical and effective way to help meet sustainability goals around the world. These groups have both the ability and the responsibility to meet obligations.
Companies don’t necessarily have to create a PRO themselves. Projects like Second Life’s Plastic Recovery Plans operate around the world to help reduce waste. As these programs already exist, setup costs are virtually nonexistent, and companies can start benefiting from their help immediately.