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May19

Photovoltaics under stewardship scrutiny

Australian Government considers batteries, photovoltaics and WEEE for Product Stewardship Action

 

The Australian Government and some industry sectors continue to tussle through product categories that could or should be subjected to increased Product Stewardship attention, including a greater focus on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) solutions. Photovoltaics and electronics other than televisions and computers, are now under investigation.

 

While Australian policy makers are not known for their appetite to create and apply product-oriented regulatory instruments, the Product Stewardship Act 2011, has triggered an expanded view of how Government can address life cycle environmental impacts using EPR principles, especially those impacts and issues arising from end-of-life products and their inappropriate disposal.

 

To date the Australian Government has created a highly effective co-regulatory Product Stewardship for televisions and computers, as well as giving voluntary accreditation to the mobile phone industry’s take-back and recycling program – MobileMuster. Similar accreditation has also been given to Fluorocycle program however its performance on collection and processing of mercury containing lamps has been relatively underwhelming to date.

 

Combined with growing pressure from State Government agencies and EPAs, NGOs and local authorities, the momentum for Product Stewardship and EPR-type schemes is building. This aligns with the latest announcement from the Commonwealth Environment Minister that new product categories will be subjected to increased scrutiny for potential Product Stewardship action.

 

In short, Minister Greg Hunt and the Department of the Environment are to be commended on their latest efforts to widen the scope and application of the Product Stewardship Act 2011.

 

Under Section 108A of the Product Stewardship Act 2011 the Minister must publish an annual list of classes of products the Minister is proposing to consider, during the next financial year, for some form of accreditation or regulation under the Act. The list must include the reason, or reasons, why the Minister is proposing to give that consideration to each class of products.

 

The Product Stewardship Act 2011 came into effect on 8 August 2011. This legislation provides the framework to effectively manage the environmental, health and safety impacts of products, and in particular those impacts associated with the disposal of products. The framework includes voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory product stewardship. The passage of the legislation delivers on a key commitment by the Australian Government under the National Waste Policy, which was agreed by governments in November 2009 and endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in October 2010.

 

The test of Government’s appetite for intelligent regulation (and its adequate resourcing) will show whether policy makers are prepared to take action where and when it is required. Critics are already flagging the likely glacial pace at which government agencies in Australia tend to operate on Product Stewardship and EPR imperatives.

 

Industry’s genuine commitment to corporate responsibility and life cycle thinking will also be tested. Over and above the usual and somewhat meagre activity related to annual environment and sustainability reporting, the Product Stewardship Act and the recently published Product List provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate how businesses in Australia can truly innovate and transition toward a Circular Economy. Time will tell and patience will be pushed for Australian stakeholders concerned about environmental protection and measurable sustainability outcomes.

 

2016-17 Product List

 

The Minister for the Environment has listed the classes of products below in accordance with Section 108A of the Product Stewardship Act 2011 (the Act).

 

Listed classes of products are those for which the Minister will consider, during 2016-17, whether some form of accreditation or regulation under the Act might be appropriate. Plastic microbeads and products containing them, batteries, photovoltaic systems, electrical and electronic products, and plastic oil containers are included in the list for 2016-17. These classes of products are the highest priorities for consideration of possible product stewardship approaches. Waste architectural and decorative paint and end-of-life batteries less than 5kg have previously been listed in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.

 

Publishing this list serves two purposes. Firstly, it provides certainty to the community and business about what is being considered for coverage under the Act. Secondly, the Act requires at least 12 months notification be given that a class of products is being considered for some form of accreditation or regulation under the Act before regulations may be made in relation to that class of products. The product list serves as this notice.

 

For more information refer to the Australian Government’s Product Stewardship web pages.

 

Electrical and electronic products (other than televisions and computers)

 

Under the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), the television and computer industry funds the collection and recycling of end-of-life televisions, printers, computers, computer parts and peripherals. Members of the public often deliver other electrical and electronic products, particularly television peripherals, hi-fi equipment and other home appliances, to collection services provided under the scheme. This adds to the cost of the scheme and indicates that there is potential to increase the recovery of valuable resources and to reduce the impact of hazardous material on the environment by increasing the range of products able to be recycled under the scheme.

 

A review of the operation of the Product Stewardship Act 2011, scheduled for 2016–17, will provide an opportunity to consider whether there is a case to expand the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include other categories of electrical and electronic products. These products are sold in a national market.

 

Photovoltaic systems

 

This class of products encompasses photovoltaic cells, inverter equipment and system accessories such as batteries, for domestic, commercial and industrial applications.

 

Photovoltaic systems are becoming increasingly common as the community adopts solar energy technology. The volume of photovoltaic system equipment reaching end-of-life is expected to sharply increase in coming years to become Australia’s largest electronic waste growth stream.

 

Components of photovoltaic systems may contain hazardous substances. Photovoltaic systems also contain many recoverable materials of value. The complexity of these systems creates challenges for the full recovery of valuable materials.

 

Photovoltaic systems are sold in a national market, and their disposal at end of life involves a cost to governments. There is potential to increase the recovery of valuable resources through improved collection and recycling pathways, while also reducing the impacts of hazardous materials on the environment and human health through diverting materials from landfills.

 

Batteries

 

Many batteries types contain hazardous substances. If end-of-life batteries are not managed effectively, they have the potential to harm the environment and human beings. It has been estimated that only 5% of the end-of-life batteries produced every year are recycled. Appropriate management responses will vary depending on battery type.

 

Industry and governments are working on a scheme for the management of end-of-life handheld batteries, including rechargeable and hazardous single-use batteries. This process is ongoing.

 

Large storage batteries such as those used in electric vehicles and for stationary energy storage are becoming increasingly common. A significant increase is expected in the number of these batteries entering the waste stream in coming years Lead acid batteries are already subject to an effective recycling process.

 

Plastic microbeads and products containing them

 

On 29 February 2016, the Minister for the Environment stated that the Federal Government will take action to implement a ban on plastic microbeads if, by 1 July 2017, it is clear that the industry voluntary phase-out, currently supported by environment ministers, will not be effective.

 

Plastic microbeads are manufactured plastic particles less than 0.5mm in size. They are used in many cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products. They are sold in a national market and there is potential to reduce the impacts they have on the environment and the health and safety of human beings.

 

Plastic microbeads can persist in the environment for substantial periods and have been found to have detrimental impacts on aquatic organisms, ecosystems and the food chain. They may carry chemical contaminants that pose an ecotoxicological risk. These particles can be transferred to higher levels in the food chain causing adverse effects and may serve as a global transport mechanism for accumulated contaminants such as persistent organic pollutants.

 

Plastic oil containers

 

The Australian Institute of Petroleum has administered a successful scheme for the collection and recycling of used plastic oil containers since 2004, funded by oil companies. Over time, the number and market share of oil companies choosing not to participate in the scheme has increased, meaning that the cost of the scheme is being borne by a smaller proportion of oil companies. Consequently, the remaining participants reduced the coverage of the scheme in 2016 and have indicated that they will withdraw the scheme altogether by the end of 2016.

 

If the used plastic oil containers are not managed effectively, they have the potential to harm the environment and human beings as the result of the waste oil they contain, including oil adsorbed into the plastic. There is potential to increase the recovery of resources and reduce the impacts on the environment and human health through collection and recycling of these containers. Plastic containers of oil are sold in a national market.

 

More Information

 

John Gertsakis – Chief Sustainability Officer

Infoactiv Australia

Email: john.gertsakis@infoactiv.com

Tel: +61 (0)3 9831 7929

 

 

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