Submissions to New Zealand Government
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Ministry for the Environment
31 August 2005
SUBMISSION ON PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP AND WATER EFFICIENCY LABELLING
Clifford Paul MASON
26 Durham Crescent
Epuni, LOWER HUTT
On behalf of Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM)
PIRM is an incorporated society actively concerned with human welfare and the interaction of human society with the natural environment. We publish the quarterly journal Pacific Ecologist and have been involved in making submissions on many issues, including the Packaging Accord 2004. The Pacific Ecologist issue for Spring 2004 extensively covered waste management issues including Product stewardship.
This submission follows the tenor of previous submissions in seeking more effective action by the Ministry and associated public and private agencies to reduce waste generation and its consequences. It is encouraging that the Ministry has chosen to look seriously at Product Stewardship, a critically important element in some of the most effective waste reduction schemes in operation worldwide.
There are some concerns about the preferred option and the associated arguments put forward in the Discussion Document. These are itemized below as part of answering the Questions of Section 6 in the Document with some additional comments preceding and following.
There is concern the document expresses overall too strong a bias toward a passive encouraging and enabling approach. This approach resulted in the Packaging Accord of 2004 providing for waste reduction targets that are too low or too slow. Despite the Accord, only the threat of Government regulation has been sufficient to prevent a farcical outcome in glass recovery. A new packaging product for milk-based beverage that combines the worst elements of ‘Tetrapaks’ and screwtop plastic bottles has been introduced.
Unless the Ministry becomes a much stronger negotiator in any Product Stewardship Agreements, there is a risk waste reduction will be minimal.
The term “Product Stewardship” itself rather than Extended Producer Responsibility while understandably broadening the options that can be considered also runs a risk of diluting the responsibility of individual agencies. The consumer, while not exempt from responsibility, already faces a large burden in trying to make responsible choices that does not need to be added to. There are often constraints and conflicts affecting such consumer decisions. It would be of benefit to consumers if they could be confident all goods for sale in NZ were under a product stewardship regimen that ensured their production, use and disposal was in accord with the highest practicable environmental standards.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), where those who produce and profit are made socially, financially and ecologically accountable for the effects of their products is essential to effect the aims of the NZ “Towards Zero Waste” strategy. It is of concern to see EPR described in the Document as a “narrower focus” on producer’s responsibilities, implying it fails to consider the issue in sufficient breadth. In fact EPR is a stronger emphasis on the producer’s responsibility. It consequently requires stronger resolve on the part of legislators to establish it as a working system. as there is considerable producer resistance to taking on such extended responsibility. Without this emphasis, schemes to address waste reduction will be less effective.
Electronic waste is the highest priority. This is because of the high and increasing volumes of such waste with limited resource recovery availability. The long-term toxicity of many components of this waste and the fact that these toxic elements are often embedded in composite materials that are difficult to recycle adds to the importance of this type of waste. Electronic products have an ever shorter life span, largely driven by the producers who introduce new products that render older items functionally obsolete or commercially unfashionable. Right now there is a major technological transition taking place with cathode ray tube (CRT) displays being replaced by various flat screen technologies. CRTs contain many of the important toxic elements that are of concern. Large numbers of CRTs are being dumped by commercial and domestic users, many and possibly most in the general waste stream to be buried in landfills. This is a situation which cannot afford the delays of negotiated agreements for product stewardship but must be addressed immediately and directly by regulation. If not, a large amount of toxic waste will be added to that already buried in our landfills. As drivers of this obsolescence, producers and retailers must pay the costs of safe material recovery. There is a case for EPR regulation immediately to prevent expansion of the problem and for further actions to address the problem that already exists. It is important that mechanisms are established for recovery of materials from the large piles of obsolete electronic goods that exist at present. This recovery should be done in NZ – there is evidence that e-waste is often recycled in poor countries without adequate regard to environmental and human health matters.
Tyres are another high priority waste material. The ‘Tyre Track’ programme is only a small initial step in dealing with tyres and it is evident all around that there is still a large amount of uncontrolled disposal/storage of waste tyres. Tracking the material is not enough. There must be validated end useage of the tyres that really recovers the material and terminates the problem. Some of the end uses in the present programme are merely another form of storage e.g.use in farm silage pit covers.
Similar comments can be made about another high priority waste material – waste oil. The recovery rates are still too low and end use in low-temperature furnaces is a less than ideal situation.
Assess overseas programmes regarding their effectiveness in waste reduction. This is the only measure that matters with the proviso that the programme should also have proven sustainable. An ideological aversion to regulation as a tool should not exclude this approach if it has proven effectiveness.
The Packaging Accord, as an example of a stewardship agreement, should be assessed ahead of the scheduled overall review/renewall date and interim reports from the various sectors examined critically.
- Product Stewardship (PS) schemes would be best negotiated to ensure oversight by agencies outside of the participating industries. However, the targets should be specified prior to negotiation over mechanisms as there is otherwise a risk that targets will be reduced to those that are likely to occur through ‘business as usual’. Negotiated PS schemes may be better looked at as one option that industry groups might adopt to achieve specified targets rather than as the sole mechanism to both set and implement targets.
- There should be great flexibility allowed for in any stewardship schemes to allow industries to chose the option that best suits their particular circumstances. Again, the outcomes should be predetermined in quantitative targets for waste reduction, preferably with an aim for continued improvement over time. The mechanisms by which these target outcomes are to be met should by and large be left open to industry to find. A few constraints may need to be placed around acceptable practices to prevent e.g. apparent reduction of waste mass by substitution with lighter materials or the ‘export’ of waste by transferring some parts of production overseas.
- The Ministry has a broad overview of the environmental issues of concern in any PS scheme and already has some experience in establishment of schemes. It could continue to be actively involved but, if robust regulations are in place to ensure the desired outcomes in waste reduction, other parties e.g. Ministry for Economic Development, could be involved.
- If outcomes are regulated, there should be little need for direct regulation of PS schemes except where (as in the case of e-waste mentioned above) immediate action is required. There may also be situations where matters external to the direct concerns of industry are of such importance they warrant direct intervention in PS schemes. Container deposit legislation is one example of such a situation.
- Enforcement should be through normal legal processes with regulations setting a schedule of penalties.
- Again, if end results are legislated for, there should be less opportunity for individual companies to ‘free-ride’ by non-participation in PS schemes.
- There is a case for including mandatory PS tools as discussed in 6, above. Some tools for waste reduction have proven so effective both in the past in NZ and presently in many places overseas that they demand (re)introduction to address not only matters of waste reduction but attendant issues such as litter. Container Deposit Legislation (CDL) is an outstanding example of such a tool.
- The paragraph emphasizing EPS answers this question. There is a large risk that there will be inaccurate specification of those supposedly benefiting from reduced waste. The present situation with recycling demonstrates how costs and responsibility are often dissociated in the field of waste management. All ratepayers meet the cost of recycling programmes, whether or not they contribute to the generation of waste materials involved e.g.by consumption of soft drinks. The cost is the same whether the household produces one binful of recycling per week or per year. Parenthetically, appropriate targeting of cost is yet another benefit of CDL.
- A PS approach rather than a specific EPR approach multiplies the number of obligations and accordingly the difficulties of ensuring that obligations are met.This is another argument for using EPR as the primary tool for waste reduction. Use of legislated targets for reduction could ensure there is universal and unavoidable obligation.
- To ensure even-handed treatment of local producers and importers, targets for waste reduction could be specified through legislation pertaining to the sale of goods. There may be other legislative mechanisms that are capable of operating on all participants in the market and the Ministry is urged to consult widely with other Government Ministries and departments, local authorities and industry bodies to establish a system that operates regardless of any ‘sign-on.’
There is an emphasis in the Document on flexibility. Specifying outcomes and leaving mechanisms to producers and retailers to choose seems likely to provide more flexibility than a series of negotiated PS agreements without the protracted process. Producers will be free to choose the most cost-effective means of achieving the mandatory outcomes. There can be no reluctance to ‘own’ a waste problem if this is declared to belong to all who market products that result in waste problems. An emphasis is apparent in the Packaging Accord and the Discussion Document on reducing waste during production. This obviously makes the ideas easy to ‘sell’ to industry as it is obviously advantageous to them. It is a much harder sell to involve them in activities that are plainly not advantageous. Unfortunately, in the situation where a consumer society has resulted in a huge waste problem, someone has to pay for remediation. The Ministry has a responsibility to move activities into this more difficult area. Presentation of waste as ‘a potential resource and a symptom of inefficient resource use’ will only contribute a fraction of the change in direction that is required to disconnect economic activity from waste production. Costs that have been socialized for a long time must be returned to the parties that generate the damage. These costs must however not be borne merely by payment of a dollar sum in recompense, but by repair of the damage.
There is a need to move beyond “polluter pays” to “polluter cleans it up.” Environmental costs are not overt in dollar terms and cannot be internalized by the orthodox functioning of markets. Wherever attempts to incorporate environmental costs are made there is a strong tendency to underestimate such costs and to discount costs that will be incurred in the future. Effects can be apparently reduced by the ruse of deferral of their occurrence. That is why results for waste reduction must be specified in material terms and quantitated as such.
The document mentions a ‘co-regulatory’ approach without explanation of what this term means.
The Objective to improve product design is important but the trend in new products is toward content of smaller quantities of more diverse materials, often in composites from which raw materials cannot be reclaimed. This will be a very difficult area to address and is only likely to occur when there is a change in the attitude of manufacturers to their products. Only robust legislation for EPR is likely to produce this changed mind-set.
New Zealand has a strategy for waste reduction in “Toward Zero Waste and a Sustainable NZ” that is at the international cutting edge. It now needs the legislative framework to achieve the vision.
- Labelling would influence my purchases.
- There would be savings in infrastructure provision and wastewater disposal by better water use efficiency.
- Mandatory water efficiency labeling would be of great advantage.
- Not applicable.
- Not applicable.
Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission.
Pacific Institute of Resource Management, Wellington.