This Article examines how governments in the world's two largest economies are diverging in their approaches to regulating hazardous products and packaging, with major ramifications for manufacturing, waste management, and trade. The European Union is implementing product-oriented environmental regulation based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility ("EPR"), which assigns responsibility to manufacturers to take back their products after consumers discard them. In theory, EPR could dramatically alter production practices by internalizing externalities from products and providing incentives for environmentally friendly design. However, practical problems of implementation raise questions about the effectiveness of EPR as a policy tool.

This Article explores the European experience with EPR, the reasons for apparent resistance to EPR in the United States, and the implications of a move toward product-oriented environmental law. It critiques EPR on the grounds that the transaction costs of EPR may outweigh its environmental benefits and that practical problems of implementation may preclude the achievement of expected product design incentives. Given the substantial cost and technical hurdles to establishing the legal underpinnings of EPR programs, this Article recommends that the United States consider alternative policy instruments to address environmental externalities from products.

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