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Tag Archives: Nicholas Harford

ACOR Briefing Paper: Mandatory Product Stewardship Schemes

While all schemes can be improved, the current regulated take-back programs are producing good results, and there has been no demonstrable consumer concern about their cost.

Under the Product Stewardship Act 2011, schemes can be established to manage different products and materials in order to reduce their life-cycle impacts on the environment and on human health and safety.

Mandatory schemes involve enabling regulations to be made that would require some persons to take specified action in relation to products. Such requirements might include restricting the
manufacture or import of products, prohibiting products from containing particular substances, labelling and packaging requirements and other requirements relating to reusing, recycling,
recovering, treating or disposing of products.

A briefing paper prepared by Equilibrium for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) identifies the likely costs of operating mandatory product stewardship schemes for tyres, mattresses and e-waste.

In considering the potential costs of a mandatory product stewardship scheme for various products, it is assumed that there will be development and set-up costs such as Regulatory Impact Statements, technical assessments and legal costs that will be borne by Government and industry participants / liable parties.

A copy of the briefing paper can be viewed on the ACOR website.

Fit for Purpose Tools in Resource Recovery

Fit for Purpose Tools in Resource Recovery

Equilibrium’s managing director, Nick Harford is presenting this week at the 2018 WasteSA Resource Recovery Conference in Adelaide. It’s an excellent event typically attended by key players who know the industry and what is required to move it forward.

The current climate confronting the waste and resource recovery industry generates considerable  discussion and speculation about preferred solutions, desired outcomes, essential infrastructure and/or policy reforms.

Product stewardship – either voluntary or regulated – is often hooked into the dialogue, as a key tool for more efficient resource use, including the recovery and recycling of products and materials. And in many cases (but not all) this is an accurate assessment.

Nick’s conference presentation will highlight that product stewardship is one tool among many when it comes to waste avoidance and resource recovery. The environment and sustainability toolbox contains many approaches that need to be mixed and matched depending on the specific problem or opportunity being addressed.

Whether we are focussed on material substitution,  eliminating restricted substances, extended product life or design for disassembly and remanufacturing, the need to carefully choose a solution or hybrid of tools, should be informed and with clear justification.

In short, it is about understanding the issue, the desired outcome and the relevance of available approaches or tools. Fit for purpose thinking is essential when it comes to maximising efficiency and effectiveness with a view to delivering measurable benefit.

Contact Nick directly to request a copy of his conference presentation:

Nick Harford
Email:  nick@equil.com.au
Mobile:  0419 993 234

Waste of a Word

There is much more to the word we know as ‘waste’ and that means viewing resource recovery through a lens that creates value.

At a recent conference I was speaking on how to track whether recyclables are really recycled when I got a great question: “When is something a waste, and when is it recycling?”

It is just a word, but that word waste is inextricably but unfortunately linked to recycling. Waste management is presented as almost interchangeable with government recycling policy and regulation, and to the pursuit of the grand aspirations of reduced disposal to landfill and a more circular economy.

But what is commonly called ‘waste’ is not waste, it is a ‘product’.

Effective and sustainable resource recovery and recycling is fundamentally about value generation. If it is cheaper to throw something away than it is to recover and recycle it, then by definition our economy and therefore community is saying it does not value that material.

Changing that value equation is not easy. In 1991 the Industry Commission upon reference from then Treasurer the Hon PJ Keating pointed out what many may say is obvious when it stated that “…recycling is an alternative to waste disposal…” i.e. recycling is not waste.

The Commission also made the finding that ‘’Governments cannot be expected to determine efficiently how much recycling of each product should occur now or in the future. But, by changing arrangements in some areas, governments can contribute to more efficient recycling”.

So, it was recognised 27 years ago that generating greater value through resource recovery should not be through a narrow lens of “waste” or simplistic targets.

What does this mean when talking about how to track recyclables? Only that having proper processes in place to track where materials collected for recycling actually go is an economic and risk management tool.

Firstly, tracking and reporting downstream activities means the purchaser knows whether they are getting the service they paid for. It is incumbent on the purchaser of recycling to demand such information, and the recycling service provider to furnish it.

And secondly, downstream assessment and knowing where recyclables go and what happens to them informs the market, and an informed market is an efficient market.

Knowing the fate of recyclables is at times a complex activity and needs a close eye on confidentiality and privacy issues, but ultimately is part of generating more value through recycling.

Download a copy of the presentation here. It was delivered at the WA Waste and Recycle Conference 2018 in Perth, WA on 6 September 2018.

This article was authored by Nicholas Harford, Managing Director of Equilibrium consultants.

Stewardship Tools and Economic Outcomes

Recent pressures on Australia’s waste industry and some local councils reveal thought-provoking views about the desired remedies and solutions. Some of them are well considered, commercially sound and informed; others seem opportunistic and motivated by self-interest.

As part of the scramble for solutions, ambitions for achieving a circular economy are to be commended and pursued, but they must also demonstrate genuine attention to the core principles of what a circular economy is and provides.

In Australia, many circular economy visions and claims seem rebranded ‘old-school’ recycling activities that are far from regenerative, restorative or closed loop. Putting recovered materials into road building is good but not really recycling or upcycling that maximises functional value or extends material life; more so it is a short step from otherwise landfilling such materials.

Such pursuits also seem to typically co-opt product stewardship as a tenet of a circular economy, often going further and binding the two together.

History, theory and reality tells us that product stewardship is about managing the life-cycle of products and this involves much more than materials or waste management. Product stewardship has grown out of chemical companies in particular safeguarding farmers and other end-users from the toxic or health threatening effects of certain chemicals and in particular herbicides and insecticides.

Product stewardship is a tool that can involve diverse interventions at different stages of the life-cycle and across the spectrum of environmental issues and impacts not excluding occupational, health and safety, energy efficiency, safe operation, or design for repair, remanufacturing and refurbishment. Indeed, in many North American companies, product stewardship is often primarily focused on the safe management of chemicals and restricted substances across the product life-cycle.

On the other hand, a circular economy is a desired outcome for managing products and materials in a more  sustainable manner. It seeks to ensure that the production and consumption process values and rewards resource productivity. A circular economy is chiefly the result of materials movement and use allocating waste as an unwanted inefficiency, ipso facto transitioning from the take-make-waste-paradigm to circularity.

Distinct and separate concepts

While there is complementarity as some elements of product stewardship can contribute to achieving a circular economy, they are distinct and separate concepts. Each one worthy and necessary, but not co-dependent, nor interchangeable. One is a tool or approach typically applied by producers and/or retailers; the other is a system-wide outcome involving more action by more players across the economy.

Some claim the need for increased product stewardship regulation in order to cover the cost of market failures or sustain the business activities of waste management providers. Others believe that increased in-country processing of recyclables will resolve the export dilemma. Yet others are convinced that recycled content in packaging with associated labeling can save the day. There is even great enthusiasm for embedding a range of post-consumer materials in road building and construction, instead of embedding it in landfill. And we haven’t even touched on the role of waste to energy and whether it is compatible with circular economy principles.

The reality is that we may need a mix of multiple responses depending on the specific issue or impact being addressed. A one-dimensional approach typically delivers questionable environmental benefit.

For a more circular economy, mandated product stewardship mechanisms might be relevant and necessary in some cases, just as voluntary models might be most desirable in other instances. There will also be myriad other economy-wide measures required, as this has been clearly evidenced by the EU’s package of circular economy measures.

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan gives us a sense of what is required in a practical policy and programs sense. It reflects system-wide, economy-wide interventions across sectors, industries and communities. It reflects a transformative approach across many players in government, industry, academia and the community. The Commission’s Action Plan also highlights the comprehensive nature of its measures and how they apply to existing policies, laws, directives, standards regulations, and codes.

The current inclination to push product stewardship and circular economy as partners working towards better waste and recycling outcomes over-plays their purpose and capacity. It also under-estimates the detail of what’s required to achieve better product life cycles and a more circular economy.

Noteworthy examples

Of course there are great examples where product stewardship and circular economy principles work well together and achieve noteworthy results.

Product stewardship is not prima facie about waste management and circular economy, and trying to make it so weakens its role and restricts solutions.

For example, Australia led the way with newsprint recycling through the Publishers National Environment Bureau (PNEB), and a model that reflected both a strong stewardship approach and the core circular economy principles. Australian newspaper and magazine publishing companies worked collaboratively to develop a program that increased recovery and recycling rates of newsprint and did so through closed loop strategies that applied across the supply chain.

This was done as paper recycling operated in a semi-circular economic fashion in its own right. While paper production on a national and global scale physically requires introduction of long fibres only achievable through virgin pulp, the paper industry nonetheless is largely circular based on the economic benefits and inherent value in recovered fibre.

Another real-world exemplar of how stewardship and the circular economy work in tandem but are not co-dependent is the commercial furniture sector. Steelcase is an American company creating products and services for the workplace and is well known for design, manufacture… and refurbishment of workstations, ergonomic seating and other commercial furniture products.

Steelcase developed their Phase 2 Program to handle high-volume furniture recovery and refurbishment activity, all of which is underpinned by a zero waste to landfill goal. It is a smartly designed initiative and seeks to maximise the useful life of office furniture by enabling a second life with other customers. There is a strong charitable and gifting focus but it is also highly commercial. They’ve worked out a model that is regenerative, restorative as well as closed-loop to a significant degree.

The Steelcase gifting and charitable process has also been fine-tuned to work at a national level and with large volumes of product, thus it’s no cottage industry. In many respects it reflects the essence of product stewardship and includes a strong social and charitable dimension while also diverting thousands of workstations and chairs from landfill on an annual basis.

Again, no regulation, producer-focused and a great example of how design for disassembly and refurbishment upstream in  the product life-cycle can deliver social, environmental and economic benefit downstream. It’s more about circular asset management, good design and a company culture that values product durability and charitable objectives.

Successful product stewardship schemes can and do operate with or without the waste industry

In electronics for example, we see product stewardship exercised through asset management programs and reverse logistics operators whereby the consolidation, collection and transport are managed by third parties to manage the remarketing, reuse and redeployment of product. This example is widespread among the mobile phone, computer and business imaging industries with no need for traditional waste management service providers or materials recycling  businesses.

So what do these examples tell us about product stewardship and the circular economy and the relationship therein?

Firstly, we need to acknowledge the difference between tools (product stewardship), and outcomes (circular economy), noting that product stewardship is not just about industry-funded post-consumer waste recycling programs, just as circular economy is more than just processing recyclables in-country.

Closing remarks

Commercial self-interest that is connected to any intervention, program or scheme needs to be called out. Simplistic claims for mandatory instruments should be approached with caution.

The waste and recycling industries have a role to play in product stewardship schemes and pursuit of a more circular economy, they are important service providers and enablers for both. However, they are not central to both, but perhaps more vital in the circular economy than in product stewardship opportunities.  They are only links in a chain.

None of this is about being unrealistic or impractical; more so it is about confronting the evidence we know and hear daily, evidence that tells us that window-dressing, half-measures, and environmental spin, will not deliver the positive change we require in order to consume sustainably and operate successful companies, social enterprises and local councils.

The restorative and regenerative principles inherent in a circular economy tell us that ‘value’ in all its forms must be maximised; that lowest cost is not always the lowest overall price when all environmental, economic and social factors are considered. It also tells us that waste disposal and down-cycling may sometimes the best of limited available options, but are still not circular.

One of the challenges and risks for all stakeholders is to resist the temptation of mediocrity. We need to guard against the broader value of tools like Product Stewardship and circular thinking being reduced to crude waste management tools.

This article was authored by John Gertsakis – director, communications, and Nick Harford – managing director of Equilibrium.

Originally published on 27 August 2018 in Inside Waste online.

Emerging environmental compliance in Victoria

The need for business transition

Protecting the environment is a major area of activity for governments and business, particularly as we face complex pollution and waste management issues that can affect human health and sensitive ecosystems.

The Victorian Government has been working systematically to modernise the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in order to meet Victoria’s environment and human health challenges. The government response to the EPA Inquiry details the suite of reforms for the overall transformation of the EPA to a world class environmental regulator. It is important to note that these are the first major reforms since the EPA was formed in 1971.

The implementation of the reforms seeks to ensure that the:

> EPA will protect Victorians’ health and their environment, preventing and reducing harmful effects of pollution and waste.

> EPA will deliver efficient, proportionate and consistent regulation which is vital for economic prosperity by ensuring Victoria is an attractive place to invest, work, live and visit.

In many respects, the reforms establish a stronger emphasis on preventing environmental harm and foreseeable hazards and risks.

Figure 1. Summary of the EPA reforms and business regulation
The need for businesses to be prepared

The process highlights the on-going need for businesses to identify compliance issues and risks and be ready to transition to new requirements in a timely and considered manner.

The Victorian Environment Protection Act has now been updated and includes new provisions for governance arrangements.

The reform agenda will also bring about significant changes as to how businesses and organisations will be regulated in regard to environmental risk. A key change is the introduction of a ‘General Duty’ that will be used to strengthen EPA capability to prevent environmental harm.

The introduction of a General Duty will involve the use of ‘Codes of Practice’, an approach that is already widely used within Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation and regulation. For example, in Victoria OHS Law and Code of Practice provides practical guidance on how to comply with relevant regulation. The VIC EPA now makes it clear that this approach provides a preferred model to apply in regard to environmental regulation in Victoria.

Adherence to Codes of Practice will certainly involve sites that require EPA Licensing and Works Approvals. Beyond such sites, the VIC EPA is looking to create a register of businesses with activities that have a regulatory significance.

Initially the register may be based on the dangerous goods notifications register managed by WorkSafe, which could involve up to 2,800 businesses. The EPA is also looking to register other businesses that have a potential higher risk profile, examples of which include dry cleaners, electroplaters, petrol stations and non-intensive agricultural businesses.

The range of activities requiring works approvals and licensing is also set to be expanded. The current recommendations involve potentially expanding licensing to:

> Waste companies
> Recyclers
> Transfer stations
> Agriculture based businesses

The EPA has put in place a five-year strategy to implement the reform recommendations.

Guidance and support for businesses

Helping companies to be prepared and ready for the reforms is an essential part of the process.

Equilibrium is well positioned to support businesses to assess and prepare for impending regulatory changes. Our depth of experience relating to environmental and OHS risk management is at the forefront when it comes to identifying and preventing harm to human health and the environment from pollution and waste.

Equilibrium’s knowledge of risk analysis and developing risk management strategies is founded on working to meet compliance requirements of Environmental and OHS regulations across Australia. Our experience covers leading projects across Australia.

Regular updates on reform implementation program are available at https://engage.vic.gov.au/reform-epa

More information

Contact Nicholas Harford for more information about Equilibrium’s services and how we can support your readiness for the reforms:

Nicholas Harford
Mobile: 0419 993 234  or  nick@equil.com.au