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Waste Management and Extended Producer Responsibility

Waste Management and Extended Producer Responsibility

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 07/2005 by Stewart Smith
The generation and management of waste has a number of potential environmental impacts, including contamination of air or waters and contamination of land. In Australia, three distinct waste streams are recognised: municipal; commercial and industrial; and construction and demolition. Australia’s per capita waste disposal rate is estimated to be 1.1 tonnes per year, the second highest among the OECD countries and surpassed only by the United States.

The principal legislation regulating the waste industry in NSW is the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001. An important element of the legislation is the development of Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategies, the first of which was released in February 2003. It proposed four outcome areas and associated targets. The outcome areas were: preventing and avoiding waste; Increased recovery and use of secondary resources; Reducing toxic substances in products and materials; and Reducing litter and illegal dumping.

The first progress report of the Strategy, released in August 2004, found for the year 2002-03:
  • Overall, the amount of waste disposed of across the state has remained constant at around 6 million tones;
  • Total waste disposed of in the Sydney Metropolitan Area was down to 4.15 million tonnes, a seven percent decrease to the base year of 2000 (calendar year). This was mainly attributed to a reduction in the amount of commercial and industrial waste;
  • Total waste disposed in the Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra regions increased 8.8% since 2000;
  • Per capita municipal waste disposal levels in the Greater Sydney Region have decreased to 334 kilograms per capita per year (kg/c/yr). Overall waste disposal has fallen by 6.5% from 1,124 kg to 1,051 kg per capita per year.

Another important feature of the NSW waste legislation is the adoption of the principles of extended producer responsibility (EPR). EPR can be defined as: “an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility, physical and/or financial, for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle”. A related policy instrument to EPR is Product Stewardship – defined as shared responsibility for the life-cycle of products including the environmental impact of the product from the extraction of virgin materials, to manufacturing, to consumption and through to and including ultimate disposal and post-disposal consequences. In the Product Stewardship model all participants in the product value chain, from raw materials suppliers to producers, retailers, consumers and waste managers share responsibility for managing environmental impacts.

The paper canvasses the application of EPR, including container deposit legislation. The National Packaging Covenant, a form of product stewardship, is also extensively discussed.