Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Waste Technology and Innovation Study

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Role for Product Stewardship

Product stewardship (PS) and extended producer responsibility (EPR) are concepts that require manufacturers of certain products and by extension their importers, distributors and retailers, to take responsibility for the recovery of these products after use. The products targeted by these schemes often have characteristics, such as toxicity, that make them inappropriate to dispose of in the conventional waste system and the recovery programs are often also outside the normal waste collection system.

Typically EPS schemes involve establishing incentives for the recovery of identified items which are redeemed or fulfilled when the items are surrendered after use. An example is the deposit system on drink containers, which is a common product stewardship system in many parts of the world including South Australia. In these cases consumers pay an additional small amount, for example 10 cents, over the normal cost of a drink in a container at a retail outlet. In effect they put a deposit on the container which is returned when the empty container is taken to a designated collection point.

Other EPR schemes also involve up front payments although the deposits are not returned. Televisions and electronic waste in some parts of the world are subject to additional $20 payment at the point of purchase which is used to fund the recovery and reprocessing of the item at the end of its life. A system like this already operates in Australia for the tyre industry, and could be applied to televisions and computers.

In some cases the main incentive for product stewardship is avoiding punishment. The National Packaging Covenant (NPC) in Australia is such a system. Companies that sign the Covenant must produce an action plan that outlines the actions they will take to reduce the amount of packaging they will produce. Those that do not sign or do not fulfil their action plan commitments are subject to a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) which imposes comparatively harsh terms and conditions, such as take back provisions.

EPR schemes are useful mechanisms for recovering particular items especially when these items are whole, easily identifiable and the producers are easily identifiable. This is an issue in the computer industry when a large proportion of machines on the market and requiring recovery are so called unbranded ‘white box’ machines. These machines have been manufactured from individually imported components and are not attributable to a particular brand owner.

Having said that, pilot programs for the recovery of computers have been quite successful. They often take place at, or are associated with, conventional waste disposal sites or utilise waste industry stakeholders such as councils and waste companies. Veolia and Simsmetal jointly run such a schemefor commercial customers. Recycling of the E-Waste equipment is performed at Sims E-Recycling, a joint venture set up between Veolia190 and the Sims Group. Electronic waste collected undergoes a manual dismantling process. The individual materials such as printed circuit boards, cabling, glass and plastics etc., are recovered and then processed so that they can be used as raw materials to produce new products.

Future EPR schemes could be either outside the normal waste collection chain, like the South Australian deposit system, or part of it, like the pilot e-waste collection schemes. Which works best will depend on the particular item being recovered and what systems are already in place for waste recovery. Municipal and commercial transfer stations, AWT facilities and other waste disposal facilities are obvious and easy collection points for items subject to EPR schemes. Their use for such programs would negate the need, and cost, for separate purpose-built receiving centres and have the ability to capture those items deposited separately or as part of the waste stream.

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