The Federal Government’s long-awaited Product Stewardship Act 2011 review recommends expanding the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) to include all electrical and electronic products with a plug or battery.
The review, which was first announced in 2017 and closed consultation in June 2018, makes 26 recommendations to improve product stewardship outcomes, all of which are supported by the Federal Government.
In addition to expanding the NTCRS, the review recommends calling out manufacturers and importers that are “letting consumers and their industry down,” by not participating in a product stewardship scheme.
Free-riding is a key challenge for many product stewardship approaches, the review states, and should be addressed through appropriate measures to enable better outcomes.
“Companies face being named and shamed, and consumers could enjoy more options for recycling electronic goods under proposed changes to product stewardship legislation,” Environment Minister Sussan Ley said.
Additional recommendations include establishing a new Centre of Excellence to mentor and drive best practice product stewardship schemes, and shifting the emphasis from stand-alone products to entire material streams.
The review also suggests strengthening the Minister’s priority products list to encourage brands to work together towards an industry-led scheme by adding clear timeframes.
“Manufacturers, industry groups and individual businesses are encouraged to consider how they can collaborate to establish new product stewardship schemes,” Ley said.
Shadow Assistant Environment Minister Josh Wilson welcomed the review’s findings, however, highlighted that its release is two years late.
“In essence, the PSA review makes recommendations that the industry has identified for some time,” he said.
“While the government’s response suggests that problematic waste producers will be put ‘on the clock’ to take voluntary action before additional co-regulatory schemes are implemented, the details of this staged and timetabled approach will be crucial.”
Introduced by the Labor Government in 2011, Wilson said the Product Stewardship Act was a major step forward in developing a regulatory framework to ensure responsible waste management in partnership with industry.
“It created a structure through which the producers of difficult waste products would take responsibility for their ‘life cycle’, including the recycling and proper disposal of resources and waste,” he said.
“We are glad to note this review confirms the fundamental value of Labor’s policy, particularly in relation to the NTCRS. But further improvements to compliance and outcomes under the NTCRS are both necessary and welcome.”
Labor will consider the report and consult with stakeholders before coming to a final position on the proposed changes.
“The PSA review has made it clear that significant free-rider issues exist and that without an expansion of co-regulatory mechanisms, there may be little improvement in current outcomes,” Wilson said.
“There should be no further delay in providing certainty to Australia’s resource recovery sector and in providing support for Australia’s nascent re-manufacturing operators and innovators.”
PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP INVESTMENT FUND
The Federal Government has also launched the first round of grants under the $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund, which seeks to ensure manufacturers, retailers and industry groups take greater responsibility for the entire lifecycle of the products they produce and sell.
Grants of up to $1 million will be available for individual applicants to expand existing schemes or develop new ones.
According to Ley, the fund is a critical part of the Federal Government’s billion-dollar recycling strategy.
“We are building more capacity in our recycling sector and we need industry and brands to take greater responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts,” she said.
The fund will have an initial e-waste focus, Ley added, to ensure that anything with a plug or a battery is subject to an industry scheme.
“Solar panels, batteries and even non-electronic items like child car seats all have recyclable components which shouldn’t be wasted in landfill,” she said.
“As part of this game-changing investment, we will recognise those industries that get on board and call out those that don’t participate.”
Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans said product stewardship schemes would reduce the impact of products on the environment and create new job opportunities for Australians.
“This funding will shift the dial in Australia as we change our mindsets to thinking about waste as a resource,” he said.
“Whether it’s an old computer, half a tin of paint or an old mobile phone, we want to provide the incentives for manufacturers and organisations to turbo-charge product stewardship schemes operating across Australia.”
Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly said Australia is fortunate to have two proactive leaders in Minister Ley and Minister Evans.
According to Donnelly, both Ley and Evans are committed to highlighting the product stewardship issue, and supporting and driving the change that is needed for Australia to make the transition to a circular economy.
“Under their guidance, Australia has delivered a comprehensive, three-year consultation and analysis of the Product Stewardship Act to ensure Australia has the right product stewardship model for the job at hand,” she said.
“We now have to trust that process has delivered the right outcome – and then collaborate with the whole value chain to deliver it.”
Donnelly added that regulation is a complex topic, and all systems – whether voluntary, co-regulatory or mandatory – bring both benefits and challenges.
“As a co-regulatory organisation, APCO’s role is to work with government and industry to focus on the solutions that will deliver the most effective model for change possible,” she said.
“Those solutions will need to be systemic and transformative. Responsibility for change of this magnitude is not owned by a single entity, actor or stakeholder.
“Rather, its effectiveness relies on action from a diverse range of stakeholders, sometimes in the thousands, and in the case of consumers, the millions. Effective regulation in this context is a worthy debate in which all models need to be considered.”