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09 Apr 2009

National Waste Policy consultation paper released

On Tuesday, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett released a consultation paper regarding A National Waste Policy: Managing Waste to 2020 for public review and comment. This is Australia's first national waste policy since 1992.

The goal of the national waste policy will be to identify best practice in waste management and resource recovery and to ensure that Australia has the right mix of incentives and regulation to achieve environmental, economic and community benefits from these activities, including to:

  • clearly articulate the objectives of waste management and the respective roles of governments
  • set out the basis for collaboration between jurisdictions
  • provide the basis for effective and efficient approaches to domestic waste issues
  • ensure that waste management remains aligned with Australia's international obligations, including the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes; and
  • complement the Australian Government's approach to climate change and sustainability.

The national waste policy will take into account the National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy which aims to "deliver more consistent regulation across jurisdictions, and address unnecessary or poorly designed regulation". The Consultation Paper recognises the diversity of approaches to waste management across Australia and raises the question of whether a more "seamless" approach can be achieved for certain aspects of waste nationally, while still providing for local differences.

The Environment Protection and Heritage Council has developed a national waste framework as the basis for collaborative action on issues of national priority including electrical products (televisions, computers and mobile phones), hazardous substances, tyres, degradable plastics, and packaging. These areas and others are explored in the context of a national waste policy in the Consultation Paper.

Producer responsibility

Product stewardship or producer responsibility is a concept that recognises that manufacturers, importers, governments and consumers have a shared responsibility for the environmental impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. In Canada, New Zealand, Japan and some parts of the US and EU the producer responsibility approach, which makes manufacturers/producers bear the cost of the waste associated with their products, is widespread. The approach is much more limited in Australia. The Consultation Paper seeks submissions on a national approach to product stewardship and suggests a National Environmental Protection Measure as one way to implement such an approach.

E-Waste

The Consultation Paper notes there is concern over the practice of landfilling electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), perhaps because such waste contains hazardous substances, but also because of the relatively short life of the products. E-waste streams are growing rapidly and there are currently limited options particularly for domestic e-waste recycling of items such as televisions and computers. The Consultation Paper seeks submissions on a national approach to managing e-waste.

Restriction on Hazardous Substances

The Consultation Paper states that Australia needs to safely manage hazardous waste over the long term. It notes that there are some seeming inconsistencies in the way hazardous waste is managed in Australia particularly as regards what is seen as a hazardous waste under the Basel Convention and what is seen as hazardous domestically.

From 1 July 2006, the EU's Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive placed a ban on the marketing of electrical and electronic products containing more than agreed levels of hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium. A number of Australian businesses already produce products that meet the requirements of the directive in order to export to European markets, but businesses importing materials into Australia are not required to meet the directive. The Consultation Paper asks whether overseas waste management initiatives should apply to Australia and what changes are needed to manage hazardous waste, for example, in regard to adequate infrastructure or disclosing the contents of goods and substances.

Implications for Industry

The Consultation Paper raises a number of questions and summarises current state and national waste initiatives but does not appear to push any particular policy agenda. It provides companies with an opportunity to make persuasive submissions to the Government in regard to their particular waste and producer responsibility issues.

Submissions close on 13 May 2009. Public meetings are scheduled around Australia from 21 April to 1 May 2009

Should you require any assistance in preparing a submission please contact us. Our Group has extensive international experience dealing with issues arising out of the regulation of e-waste and restriction of hazardous substances and producer responsibility schemes in the UK and Europe.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.