Product stewardship is an approach where producers take responsibility, either voluntarily or by regulation, for the environmental impacts of their products. Product stewardship programs can involve different entities — such as manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, consumers and governments — and can focus on different points of a product’s life. In Australia, product stewardship is a term often used in relation to waste management programs and, in particular, recycling.
Product stewardship is one of the guiding principles contained in section 1H of the Environment Protection Act 1970 and is defined as follows:
Producers and users of goods and services have a shared responsibility with Government to manage the environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of the goods and services, including the ultimate disposal of any wastes.
Product stewardship is a preferred waste policy instrument because it can be an effective and efficient way of correcting market failure. It requires those who benefit from production and consumption to bear the costs of environmental management, so reducing the burden on governments and the community.
Product stewardship in Victoria and Australia
Australia has a number of active product stewardship schemes in place. Some are regulated, some are voluntary and some are effectively a mix of both. Examples include:
- Product Stewardship for Oil Scheme (regulated scheme) — introduced by the Australian Government with the aim of increasing used oil recycling
- the Australian Packaging Covenant (co-regulatory scheme) — introduced by all Australian governments and industry to reduce the environmental impacts of used packaging
- Drum Muster (voluntary scheme) — introduced by industry to collect and safely dispose of unwanted agricultural chemicals and containers.
In Victoria, Sustainability Victoria has led a number of product stewardship programs for products including computers (ByteBack), batteries (BatteryBack), paint (PaintBack) and compact fluorescent lights (FlashBack). These programs have been important, not only for diverting these products from landfill, but also for helping shape future programs. For example, the ByteBack scheme was an important input into the design of the national television and computer recycling program.
Product stewardship is usually most efficient and effective when implemented nationally, because most companies affected by product stewardship operate nationally. To date, only a small number of schemes have been introduced nationally, but this is set to change.
In 2011, the Australian Government introduced the Product Stewardship Act 2011 as part of its commitment under the National Waste Policy. The legislation provides the framework to manage national product stewardship schemes for products identified as national priorities. Televisions and computers will be the first to be managed under the national legislation.
Implications for Victoria
There are a number of products that communities and governments want to see diverted from landfill to alternative pathways, such as recycling. For example, products that contain hazardous or valuable materials may be considered a priority for management using product stewardship.
It is important to understand how Victoria can work collaboratively with other governments to harness opportunities under the National Waste Policy and, in particular, the Product Stewardship Act 2011. The television and computer program is a good example of how we can achieve outcomes working together, and opportunities may exist to extend this approach to other product types.