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Regulated stewardship proposed for potent greenhouse gas

New Zealand has taken a significant step towards tackling climate change with the announcement today by the Government that consultation is being undertaken to declare synthetic refrigerant gases a priority product under the Waste Minimisation Act 2018.

The announcement, made by Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage, means it is likely that a co-designed and regulated product stewardship scheme along with specific product controls will have to be established to regulate the refrigerant gases at their end-of-life.

Design of a regulated product stewardship scheme has already begun with the establishment of the Synthetic Refrigerant Stewardship Project earlier this year. The project was initiated by the existing accredited voluntary product stewardship scheme, RECOVERY. It has received $137,000 of funding from the Waste Minimisation Fund, approved by Eugenie Sage, Associate Minister for the Environment. This represents 70% of the project’s total cost.

The project’s work is being steered by a Working Group which represent the interests of the key industries affected by a priority product declaration, including refrigeration and air conditioning, motor vehicle industry (automotive air conditioning), refrigerant wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors and other significant industry stakeholders.

Project manager Darren Patterson, of 3R Group, says controlling refrigerant gases is vital to tackling climate change as, once released into the atmosphere, they are between a thousand and nine-thousand times more potent than carbon. “It’s therefore vital all refrigerants are correctly installed, maintained, collected and destroyed or reused to minimise this risk,” he says. “Co-designed regulated product stewardship with product controls requires the whole of industry from those that import through to installers and those involved in managing the gases at end of life to participate which will ensure sufficient funds are available to do this.”

Product stewardship sees importers and retailers take responsibility for their products and ensure they are re-used, recycled or properly disposed of at the end of their useful life. Under the Waste Minimisation Act (WMA), a product may be declared a priority product by the Minister for the Environment. This means that a product stewardship scheme for the defined product including recommendations around product controls that ensure mandatory participation must be developed and accredited as soon as practicable after declaration. This power has not yet been used in New Zealand but is clearly signalled in today’s announcement.

The voluntary stewardship scheme for refrigerants, RECOVERY, has been operating in New Zealand since 1993. However, not all refrigerant importers are included, such as those which import pre-charged refrigerant units like fridges, heat pumps and air conditioning units for vehicles.

As a result, there is insufficient funding to deal with the mounting end of life refrigerant bank, he says. “Those companies which contribute voluntarily to the scheme end up subsidising those that don’t, as it’s not possible to distinguish between levied and unlevied refrigerants when it comes to disposal.”

RECOVERY Programme Manager John Bowen says “It’s vital we have all the players involved to make the scheme as effective as possible. Declaration of refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases as a priority product with a co-designed and regulated scheme with product controls ‘levels the playing field’ as all companies would be required to participate.”
John says consultation is a vital part of the process and both industry and public will be widely consulted to ensure the impact of a priority product declaration for synthetic refrigerant gases is understood. In the meantime, stakeholders are encouraged to visit the project website (www.refrigerantstewardship.co.nz).


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