Sage slaps six products on a “harmful” list for regulatory treatment to keep them (but how?) from becoming waste

Latest from the Beehive

What happens to the Resource Management Act, after its great ungainly bulk  has been committed to the trash basket, is something worth considering in the context of the Government’s commitment to reducing waste.

That commitment was translated yesterday into a declaration that the Government is stepping up action to deal with environmentally harmful products – including plastic packaging, tyres and e-waste – before they become waste.

As part of the wider plan to reduce the amount of rubbish ending up in landfills, Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage announced six products are to be declared ‘priority products’ for the establishment of regulated product stewardship schemes under the Waste Minimisation Act. The products are:

  • Plastic packaging
  • Tyres
  • Electrical and electronic products (e-waste)
  • Agrichemicals and their containers
  • Refrigerants
  • Farm plastics.

“Regulated product stewardship” sounds suspiciously like bureaucratese.   And in our experience, at Point of Order, grand-sounding bureaucratese is apt to camouflage a great deal of mischief.

So what’s this all about?

According to the press statement, it helps shift the responsibility for waste and what happens to products at the end of their useful life from communities, councils, neighbourhoods and nature on to manufacturers, importers, retailers and users.

Ah.  It looks like we individual citizens – or “users” – will be picking up the tab or part of the tab somewhere along the way.

To put it another way, as Jamie Morton explained in his report in the New Zealand Herald, manufacturers of products like phones, TVs and tyres are about to become more responsible for where they end up, with the Government moving to make some waste-busting stewardship schemes compulsory.

Product stewardship schemes work by having those making and using products take responsibility to recover them at the end of their lives, and prevent them ending up in landfills.

As part of a wider plan to slash the amount of rubbish being dumped across New Zealand, Sage has decided the six products will be prioritised for mandatory schemes under the Waste Minimisation Act.

While Sage wasn’t clear about what will happen to the waste she is targeting , she did not disguise her zeal:

“Old products that have reached the end of their life can be used to make something new, especially if they are designed better for reuse and recycling.”

And:

“Much of what is currently sent to landfills could be recycled, composted or reused. The Government is taking a leadership role in reducing waste through significant investment in waste minimisation.

“Earlier this month, as part of a wider plan to reduce the ever-increasing amount of rubbish ending up in New Zealand’s landfills, the Government announced it is to invest $124 million in new materials recovery and recycling infrastructure and expand the national waste disposal levy. The initiatives to be funded could include plastic recycling plants, weighbridges for improved waste data collection and improved equipment for recycling plants.

“Increased investment in waste reduction and resource recovery infrastructure will ensure New Zealand emerges from Covid-19 with a far better resource recovery and recycling system, creating jobs and incomes across New Zealand.”

New Zealand has 15 voluntary accredited product stewardship schemes., according to Sage’s figures These have had limited success in minimising waste for the target products.

The Government’s decision to require the establishment of regulated product stewardship schemes follows a public consultation in 2019 with public support for Government taking stronger action on these products.

“New Zealanders’ expectations about waste have changed. We need new approaches such as regulated product stewardship which will help reduce the environmental impacts of waste by ensuring that products and materials currently lost to landfill or pollution are recovered, reprocessed or re-used.  This encourages new businesses and jobs,” said Eugenie Sage.

The next step will be for the Ministry for the Environment to work with the manufacturers and retailers of the priority products and with stakeholders to co-design product stewardship schemes and regulations that will work for them and the environment.

Sage went on:

“Mandatory schemes for these problem products help level the playing field and ensure everyone involved in their design, production, sale and use contributes to diverting the materials in them from landfill at the end of their useful life. This helps to ensure proper materials recovery, re-use, recycling or disposal. Many countries overseas have product stewardship legislation.” 

Tyre product stewardship is an aspect of the New Zealand First Coalition Agreement and this announcement helps fulfil that.

The announcement drew several responses.

Packaging New Zealand welcomed Sage’s investment in waste minimisation. But executive director Sharon Humphreys says when it comes to packaging, far more detail and expert input is required than has been provided around the Government’s plans for regulated product stewardship.

Putting the responsibility for what happens to products at the end of their useful life on manufacturers, importers, retailers and users, risks unintended consequences such as driving up costs, and the possibility of less sustainable outcomes overall.”

The New Zealand Product Stewardship Council expressed delight with the Government’s decision to declare tyres, electronic waste, plastic packaging, agrichemicals and their containers and refrigerants “priority products”.

Council co-ordinator Hannah Blumhardt said product stewardship schemes must now be developed for each of the declared priority products.

Product stewardship schemes for priority products are likely to become mandatory and mandatory schemes put all businesses within an industry in the same boat, making it easier for everyone to take responsibility for their products, without fears that some businesses will free-ride.

Council chairman Jonathon Hannon said product stewardship could ensure a product’s true cost wasreflected in the purchase price, rather than lumping those costs on ratepayers and the environment. “So it’s a much fairer way of doing things.

“Schemes can also make sure end of life costs are covered upfront, so that you don’t have to pay for your old laptop to be recycled at the end of its life.”

“When producers are responsible for their waste, it creates a real incentive to redesign products to be more reusable, repairable, recyclable, or waste-free. Product stewardship is the key to an increase in reusable packaging systems, to the use of materials that we can recycle on-shore, and to electronics you can actually repair” says Hannon.

Other responses came from

  • Plastics New Zealand

Declaring Plastic Packaging A Priority Product Will Be Bad For The Environment

  • Greenpeace New Zealand

Put Plastic Blame Where It Belongs – Greenpeace

  • WasteMINZ

Priority Products Announcement Welcomed

Sage’s announcement was among those included in this recent flow of Beehive statements  –

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30 JULY 2020

Dates confirmed for Christchurch Hospital Hagley move

Health Minister Chris Hipkins welcomes confirmation of Canterbury DHB’s move into state-of-the-art Christchurch Hospital Hagley building which will serve the community well for decades to come.

Hon Chris Hipkins

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New Zealand and Indonesia build ties in uncertain world

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Rt Hon Winston Peters

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The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says the availability of funding support for targeted Pacific-led solutions demonstrates the Government’s commitment to invest in  Pacific people design

Hon Aupito William Sio

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Government to regulate environmentally harmful plastic packaging, tyres, e-waste

The Government is stepping up action to deal with environmentally harmful products – including plastic packaging, tyres and e-waste – before they become waste.

Hon Eugenie Sage

Environment

Release

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Shovel-ready investment in the Defence Force’s South Island estate

A funding boost of $3.9 million from the $3 billion tagged contingency set aside in Budget 2020 for infrastructure

Hon Ron Mark

Defence

 

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