For years (and years and years), Wastebusters has been talking about what should happen in New Zealand to reduce the waste we throw out.
Right now, something is actually happening! Regulated product stewardship is on the way for six of our more harmful waste streams, including plastic packaging and bottles.
What does that mean?
“Product stewardship” is when the people making, selling and using the product (or packaging) take responsibility for what happens to it at the end of its life. “Regulated” means they have to do it.
Making producers responsible for the full life-cycle of their product changes the way they think about and design their products. Producers have the opportunity to design waste out before it’s made, such as using less materials or switching to refill systems; it also ensures the cost of proper waste management is paid by the producers and consumers, not the communities and the environment.
Regulated product stewardship could be the first step towards rethinking the way we use resources, and shifting to a circular economy where nothing is wasted.
The six products that have been declared priority products are:
- packaging (beverage packaging, single-use plastic packaging)
- electrical and electronic products (e-waste)
- refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases
- agrichemicals and their containers
- farm plastics
Why these priority products?
Plastic packaging is harming our oceans and marine wildlife. Plastic in landfill can survive for centuries, and as shown by the Fox River floods, many New Zealand landfills are vulnerable. Mandatory product stewardship schemes would allow waste to be designed out of the system, resulting in less litter, higher recycling rates, better quality recycling and more reuse options. It would also reduce the financial burden that packaging places on councils and the wider community.
Tyres contain hazardous compounds that can leach into water. Stockpiling and dumping tyres raises the risk of fire and toxic pollution of air, water and soil. Currently, 70% of tyres in New Zealand go to landfill, compared to 10%-20% in countries with regulated product stewardship schemes.
Electrical and electronic products
E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, and it contains toxic substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury. Even in modern landfills these toxins will leach out over time, polluting the environment and endangering human health. E-waste also contains valuable materials, such as gold and “rare earth” metals, which we are crazy to throw away. Currently New Zealand only recycles 2% of its e-waste.
Refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases
Refrigerant gases and other synthetic greenhouse gases can escape into the air, depleting ozone and contributing to climate change. Paul Hawkins, of Project Drawdown, found that managing and destroying refrigerant gases in circulation was the No1 action to reduce greenhouse gas levels. Only 20% of those gases are recovered now in New Zealand.
Agricultural chemicals and their containers
Agrichemicals are toxic by design, including some older chemicals that accumulate in the food chain with a long-term health risk for humans and ecosystems. Packaging used for agrichemicals is also potentially toxic. A mandatory product stewardship scheme would ensure that unwanted agrichemicals are safely neutralised and destroyed, removing the risks associated with storing or landfilling. Some packaging could be recycled.
Burning and burial are the most common methods of disposing of farm plastics, which is polluting our soil and air and creating leachate that runs into our waterways. A mandatory product stewardship scheme will ensure that more responsibility is accepted for the end-of-life of farm plastics by the people who use and make farm plastics.
Should waste-to-energy incineration be included?
There is a push from manufacturers of waste-to-energy incineration plants to have them built in New Zealand. These expensive machines burn rubbish at high temperatures, locking their communities into “feeding the machine” instead of reducing waste. Towns may find themselves trucking waste in from all around the region. Waste incineration produces ash of up to 45% the original volume, some of which is toxic and difficult to dispose of. Burning waste is also much less resource and energy efficient than recycling. For these reasons, Wastebusters and the Zero Waste Network do not see ‘‘energy recovery’’ by incinerating rubbish as an acceptable option under the waste hierarchy.
Why is regulated product stewardship the answer?
Regulated product stewardship changes the whole system. By making all producers and sellers take responsibility for their waste, it encourages them to design waste out of the system.
It also encourages them to talk to everyone in the recycling supply chain, to make sure that they can live up to any promises they make about recyclability.
What would a regulated product stewardship scheme look like?
Usually they have some sort of advance disposal fee, and a network of depots to take back the product for recycling. The evolution that people are most familiar with are deposit-refund schemes for beverage containers, which are running in most Australian states. You pay a 10c-20c deposit when you buy the drink, and get it back when you recycle the bottle or can.
The benefits of a well-designed container deposit-refund scheme are well-proven: much higher recycling rates, high-quality recycling and very low litter rates.
Why is regulation essential?
There are already some voluntary product stewardship schemes in place here, and some have been quite effective. But regulated product stewardship schemes are more successful at reducing waste because they create a level playing field and make sure that everyone participates. Industries who want cohesive action to reduce their waste — for example, the tyre industry — have been asking the Government for years to set up a regulated product stewardship scheme for their industry.
What happens next?
Declaring a product a ‘priority product’ under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 means that a product stewardship scheme must be developed and accredited as soon as practicable and the scheme must be accredited.
Right now (2020-21), during the second stage of the scheme is co-design of priority product stewardship schemes with stakeholders, application for accreditation, and consultation on any Waste Minimisation Act regulations proposed by the co-design group to support effective scheme implementation.