Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Call for upfront payment of recycling costs

Electronic scrap creates a significant recycling problem world-wide. Photo / AP
Electronic scrap creates a significant recycling problem world-wide. Photo / AP

A national group says there's no question the Government should make importers, manufacturers and retailers pay upfront for the recycling of troublesome waste products such as cellphones and tyres.

The Government is considering whether to intervene to improve the management of four product "waste streams" - electrical and electronic equipment, tyres, agrichemicals and farm plastics, and refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases.

Environment Minister Amy Adams said she was concerned about the risk of environmental harm from having tens of thousands of tonnes of waste products dumped in landfill unnecessarily.

It was estimated that each year, up to three million mobile phones become obsolete in New Zealand, and of those, only about 2 per cent are recycled.

Millions of computers were being sent to landfill, as were 70 per cent of disposed tyres.

New Zealand imports more than five million tyres each year.

Today, Ms Adams released a discussion document proposing possible options to improve the way some waste products are managed.

The paper suggested introducing the declaration of "Priority Product status" for the four waste streams, making it compulsory for parties involved with them to develop a product stewardship scheme.

In product stewardship schemes, any party involved in the life of a product may accept responsibility for the environmental effects of their products, from the time they are produced until they are disposed of.

Since passing the Waste Minimisation Act (WMA) five years ago, the Government has encouraged voluntary product stewardship efforts as a first priority.

Through the 11 schemes which have since been accredited, more than 70,000 tonnes of waste have diverted from landfill for recycling or safe destruction.

But this only equated to 1.4 per cent of the total waste stream going to disposal facilities, Ms Adams said.

"While the focus in New Zealand has been on voluntary schemes, in my view, the time has come to seriously consider appropriate mandatory approaches for selected priority waste streams."

The paper said mandatory product stewardship schemes could be developed in association with, or independently of, regulations set under the WMA.

Ms Adams said the first step in the process was to consult on whether the Government had been correct in identifying the four waste streams, and stressed final decisions would not be made solely as a result of the discussion paper.

Sue Coutts of the Community Recycling Network, which represents groups across the country, believed a move to a mandatory approach was long overdue.

"We went through exactly the same process in 2009, with pretty much the same consultation questions, and nothing happened," she said.

"The Government already knows the answer is yes, yes, and right now. It's frustrating that we've all gone back to the beginning five years later."

Ms Coutts believed introducing mandatory product stewardship schemes would ensure fairness throughout the industry.

"It's like paying a deposit to cover the costs of recycling," she said.

"Involving the industry solves the dilemma of how to get the money to pay for the recycling costs.

"It also encourages better design to reduce recycling costs, making recycling a more efficient process."

Australia already had a product stewardship scheme for electronics in place, and she believed it was "time we caught up".

"They are dealing with most of the same importers and producers that bring electronics into New Zealand, so half the work has already been done."

The discussion paper has also been welcomed by Graeme Norton, director and founder of 3R Group, which specialises in developing and managing product stewardship programmes.

"Stewardship shares responsibility for effective recycling or waste disposal across a product's supply chain, rather than lumping the full cost on individual end-users or with councils," he said.

"This provides scale for efficient collection and processing, and generally improves the environmental outcome significantly."

Presently, 3R operates PaintWise and Agrecovery Rural Recycling, both large-scale examples of successful stewardship-based recycling programmes.

But Mr Norton said all programmes had "natural limits" under a voluntary framework.

"Our programmes are funded by organisations wanting to help their customers with recycling and disposal solutions," he said.

"It's a great stance to take, but unless all players in a market participate, it provides an unbalanced playing field which can favour free-riders and undermine a programme's effectiveness."

Read the discussion paper here.

- NZ Herald

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