On 16 June 2011, the Senate amended and passed the Product Stewardship Bill.1 The Bill now returns to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the Senate’s amendments.
Who needs to know?
A wide range of importers and producers of products are within the scope of the Bill.
Product Stewardship Framework
The Bill is an initiative under the National Waste Policy.2 The Bill establishes a framework under which various product-stewardship schemes will sit.
Products to be covered
The Bill does not specify the products that will be regulated under it. Rather, it contains a set of criteria to act as filters for determining whether the Bill should apply to a particular class of product.
As amended in the Senate, a product is liable to regulation under the Bill:
- where the product is in the national market, and
- where there is potential to ‘significantly increase’ the conservation of materials used in the product or to recover materials or energy from it, or
- where there is potential to ‘significantly reduce’ the effects of the product on the environment or on human health and safety.
A change introduced by the government in the Senate is a requirement for the Minister to list annually the products under consideration for a stewardship scheme and the reasons why.
Three approaches to product stewardship
The Bill contemplates three approaches to the stewardship of any product which meets these criteria:
- voluntary schemes
- co-regulatory schemes, and
- mandatory schemes.
The Bill allows for accreditation of voluntary arrangements designed to further the objects of the Bill in relation to products, and authorising the use of product stewardship logos in connection with such arrangements.
Co-regulatory product stewardship involves requiring manufacturers, importers, distributors and users of products (called liable parties), who have been specified in the regulations, to be members of co-regulatory arrangements approved by the Minister. These arrangements must have outcomes, specified in the regulations, that are designed to further the objects of the Bill. Administrators of approved co-regulatory arrangements are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure those outcomes are achieved in accordance with the regulations.
Mandatory product stewardship involves the making of regulations that require persons to take, or not to take, specified action in relation to products.
The first product stewardship scheme is likely to be the National Television and Computer Product Stewardship Scheme (E-Waste Scheme),3 and it is likely to be a co-regulatory scheme. A discussion paper on the proposed E-Waste Scheme was released on 8 March 2011 by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) for public comment.4 It proposes to lift targets for recycling rates for televisions, computers and computer peripherals (E-Waste) from 10% to 80% by 2021.
The Bill is scheduled to pass during the winter parliamentary sittings (which run until 7 July 2011). Regulations for the E-Waste Scheme would follow quickly after that. That scheme could well come into place in the final quarter of 2011.
Voluntary product stewardship is not new in Australia, however the Bill proposes product stewardship on a much larger and more pervasive scale. In particular, importers and domestic manufacturers of products which meet the product stewardship criteria in the Bill will need to determine whether to take initiatives with the product stewardship options under the Bill and, if so, whether to propose voluntary, co-regulatory or mandatory schemes.