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Govt’s Product Stewardship Announcement A Turning Point In Waste Policy

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

“Today’s announcement represents a real turning point in how New Zealand manages the products that move through our economy” says Hannah Blumhardt, Coordinator of the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council.

Product stewardship schemes must now be developed for each of the declared priority products. Product stewardship puts greater responsibility on those who make and use products to reduce the waste and other environmental harm these products may cause over their lifecycle.

“This is the first time any priority products have been declared since the power to do so was created by the Waste Minimisation Act in 2008” says Blumhardt.

“It’s so important because product stewardship is a crucial step in the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating waste.”

Product stewardship schemes for priority products are likely to become mandatory. 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.

“Producers and consumers benefit from making and using products. Product stewardship can make sure that a product’s true cost is reflected in the purchase price, rather than lumping those costs on ratepayers and the environment. So it’s a much fairer way of doing things” says Jonathon Hannon, Chairperson of the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council.

“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.

“They’re also key to reducing the range of materials flowing through our economy, particularly those that are toxic, hard to recycle, and unnecessary, not only at end of life, but at all stages of their life cycle.”

While today’s announcement is good news, it has been a long time coming - delayed by decades of lobbying by vested interests.

“When it comes to visionary waste policy, New Zealand is very far behind other countries, which is why we are one of the most wasteful countries in the world” says Blumhardt

“Let’s take this opportunity to learn from other countries’ experiences with product stewardship and design schemes that are fit for the 21st century.”

The New Zealand Product Stewardship Council recommends that schemes seek to leapfrog beyond enhanced recycling towards more transformative systems that reduce and ultimately design out waste. Achieving this requires a focus on outcomes at the top of the waste hierarchy – preventing and reducing waste and reusing resources, with recycling being a last resort.

“It’s important that we ensure we have end markets for the products we recover. We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re stockpiling recovered materials. This may mean we need to shift to new systems of getting goods to consumers and to redesign products” says Hannon.

Designing the product stewardship schemes will now follow on from the declarations. New Zealand’s history of industry lobbying suggests the need to take active steps to ensure schemes are not watered down. This means making space for a broad range of perspectives when designing the schemes.

“If we really want ambitious schemes that give us a realistic chance of building a true circular economy, it is absolutely essential that a wide range of stakeholders sit at that design table – not just Government and industry, but also tangata whenua, NGOs, recyclers and zero waste experts, and community and consumer representatives” says Blumhardt.

“But the great news is that today we’re one step closer to the circular, zero waste future we all hope for.”

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