Key Points: A national product stewardship scheme will require liable businesses to consider options for end-of-life treatment of their products such as return or recycling schemes.

The first national waste policy released by the Australian Government for almost 18 years is optimistically called Less Waste, More Resources. This policy aims to combat the criticism that has developed from the lack of overarching legislative or policy framework to encourage reuse, recycling and diversion of waste away from landfill.

Key priorities

Unlike the former waste strategy, this policy sets out focused strategies, responsibilities and dates for implementing actions (in some cases) to achieve specific policy outcomes.

Key priority strategies include:

  • the enactment of Commonwealth legislation to establish a national product stewardship and extended producer responsibility framework by the end of 2012;
  • the establishment of a new national waste classification system which will be supported by national data collection and tracking systems; and
  • national principles and specifications to remove impediments to the development of effective markets for reuse and recycling of waste.

Background to the National Waste Policy

The National Waste Policy builds on the 1992 National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, which was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. The National Strategy for ESD provided a broad strategic direction for Australian governments to improve resource use efficiency, minimise the environmental impact of waste and manage hazardous waste.

In contrast, the new policy sets out specific national policy initiatives for the next 10 years with the objective of producing less waste for disposal and encouraging the use of waste as a resource through reuse and recycling.

What does the National Waste Policy cover?

The policy encompasses wastes, including hazardous wastes and substances, in the municipal, commercial and industrial, construction and demolition waste streams, and covers gaseous, liquid and solid wastes (excluding radioactive waste).

It will be implemented by individual and collective actions of the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local governments, and will form a long-term agenda for resource recovery and waste management by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council of Australia and New Zealand (EPHC).

The policy has two aims:

  • to avoid the generation of waste, reduce the amount of waste for disposal, manage waste as a resource and ensure that waste treatment, disposal, recovery and re-use are undertaken in a safe, scientific and environmentally sound manner; and
  • to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation and production, water efficiency and the productivity of the land.

Key priority strategies

To achieve these aims, the policy sets out 16 priority strategies, which would benefit from a national or co-ordinated approach, to achieve eight key outcomes that the Australian Government hopes will be attained by 2020. Some of the key priority strategies are summarised below.  

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Implications

  • A national product stewardship scheme will require liable businesses to consider options for end-of-life treatment of their products such as return or recycling schemes. The extent of corporate responsibility for product stewardship will vary depending on whether the schemes are voluntary, co-regulatory or mandatory and the products that are covered by such schemes.
  • A new national classification system for wastes that aligns with international standards and provides clarity on when a product or material ceases to be wastes is crucial to address market barriers and encourage investment in waste recycling and reuse projects going forward.
  • The strategies, if successful, should improve the regulation of hazardous substance movement, treatment and disposal. The generation of hazardous waste will also be reduced if restrictions similar to those already imposed in the EU and US are introduced in respect of hazardous substances contained in products sold in Australia.
  • The waste industry will have a lot of new regulation to grapple with over the next decade but also a lot of opportunities to diversify and make use of waste as a resource.

All industry is likely to be affected to some extent by one or more of the key priority strategies. If you would like assistance in understanding the implications of the National Waste Strategy or in developing consultation responses to various policy or legislative initiatives as they are released, please contact us. Our Group has extensive international experience in dealing with legal risk issues arising out of the EU regulation of e-waste, producer responsibility schemes and restriction of hazardous substances.