Case study 1: Product Stewardship Act 2011
The Product Stewardship Act 2011 was enacted on 8 August 2011. Product stewardship involves shared responsibility for reducing the environmental, health and safety impacts of manufactured goods and materials across the life of a product—from production through to disposal. The legislation delivers on a key component of Australia’s long-term National Waste Policy, which was endorsed by all Australian governments in 2009, to avoid the generation of waste, reduce the amount of waste for disposal and to manage waste as a resource to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits.
The waste stream today is very different from that of 50 years ago, when motor vehicles, refrigerators and televisions were less common and home computers, mobile phones and compact fluorescent lamps did not exist. Today’s consumer goods are increasingly complex; they not only contain materials that can be re-used but also contain hazardous substances. Because of their increasingly short product life, these goods now comprise a significant and growing component of the waste stream. When discarded, these products place a disproportionate burden on the general community, rather than on those who used or benefited from them.
The Product Stewardship Act 2011 establishes a national framework to support voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory product stewardship. It is a framework in the sense that regulations will determine the products and persons to which the obligations apply. This avoids the need for product-specific legislation and promotes a consistent approach to matters such as reporting, compliance and enforcement.
Voluntary product stewardship involves organisations seeking accreditation of product stewardship activities which meet quality standards specified in the guidelines. Under the coregulatory provisions, the minister sets the outcomes to be met by industry, but industry can decide how to meet those outcomes. Mandatory product stewardship is where both the outcomes and how they are to be met are set out in regulations.
For a product to be subject to the legislation, it must progress the objectives of the legislation and satisfy the product stewardship criteria. A product must meet the national market criterion when sold throughout Australia. In addition, at least one other criterion must be satisfied, such as containing hazardous substances; have the potential to significantly increase resource recovery, or reduce impact on the environment and human health and safety.
This framework approach allows for product stewardship schemes to be tailored for different products and to suit changing international, social, environmental and economic conditions. As each product, material and industry is unique, the regulations will set out the details of what is to be regulated and the actions to be taken. For example, there may be a requirement to reduce hazardous substances or to manage the waste as a resource. Importantly, there may be the obligation to ensure products (or waste from products) is reused, recycled, recovered, treated or disposed of in a safe, scientific and environmentally sound way.
Product stewardship legislation was developed following an extensive consultation process, starting in 2009 as part of the development of the National Waste Policy. A discussion paper on the legislation was released on 11 November 2010. Five public meetings attended by 140 people were held and 46 submissions were received. The submissions were supportive of the general approach to the legislation.
The Bill was introduced to the Senate on 25 March 2011 and referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. Public hearings were held on 13 April 2011 and received 25 submissions. The committee’s report, presented to the Senate on 9 May 2011, recommended passing the bill with minor changes.
In 2011 the department consulted on the design of regulations to support a national, industry-run recycling scheme for televisions and computers, which will be the first products to be covered by the Product Stewardship Act 2011.
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