The Rise of Product Stewardship-Opportunities in the workplace
There are many models of Product Stewardship and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in Australia and abroad. It is diverse but also a catalyst for great innovation and new business models focused on social and environmental benefit, value and impact reduction, especially among progressive brands.
However the essence of Product Stewardship and EPR remains intact i.e. that manufacturers, producers, retailers and brands take greater environmental responsibility for their products across the life cycle, and well after the consumer has finished with the product. It also requires consumers and other relevant stakeholders to play their part and ensure responsible disposal of products through official programs and schemes.
Action on product stewardship in Australia continues to increase and evolve.
In its simplest form EPR is about companies taking their environmental responsibility beyond the point of manufacture, sale and warranties, and effectively managing the total life cycle of their products. EPR requires manufacturers, brand owners, importers, retailers and supply-side enterprises to assume greater responsibility for their products when they are discarded or after consumers no longer have a need for them.
EPR prompts companies to place greater emphasis on responsible design and manufacturing processes in addition to integrating systems to recover, reuse and recycle products once they are discarded.
Relevance of Product Stewardship in the workplace
Going waste-free in the workplace is increasingly straightforward and uncomplicated as more Product Stewardship programs become available. More than ever before there are accessible options for office, facility and environment managers to champion a worker-friendly workspace when it comes to reuse, recycling and waste reduction in general.
Procurement and purchasing is often the perfect point of intervention, and allows organisations to formally specify their environment and sustainability requirements through a competitive process. It not only levels the competitive landscape among product and service suppliers, it also demonstrates that low-waste solutions are increasingly viable and affordable.
In short, there are some key actions you can implement to help improve the level of reuse, recycling and waste reduction in your organisation. From simple inclusions in tender documents and RfQs through to uptake of free collection and recycling programs funded by producers, manufacturers and telcos.
Over and above the gains achieved in workplace tearooms for recycling packaging and food waste, some significant waste reduction opportunities rest with technology and associated consumables.
The combination of voluntary and government regulated Product Stewardship schemes, has resulted in a variety and electrical and electronic products being part of industry-funded ‘take-back’ programs. Most importantly the genuine Product Stewardship initiatives are free of charge, workplace-friendly and geared towards corporates, institutions and government agencies.
Specific schemes and programs for technology products
Two of the longest running collection and recycling programs deal with mobiles and printer consumables. Both programs are free of charge to customers and organisations acting as collection points:
Product: Printer and copier cartridges and related imaging consumables
MobileMuster (Mobile Phone Industry Recycling Program)
Product: Mobile phones, their batteries and accessories
Australia also has specific legislation that requires producers and importers of televisions and computer equipment to fund the delivery of collection and recycling services for end-of-life equipment. While not as convenient as MobileMuster and C4PA, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme is a free service for householders and small business, and involves weekend collection events or permanent drop-off points (usually at local councils or retailers). Your closest drop-off point or collection service can be found on the Planet Ark website.
The collection and safe processing of mercury-containing lamps is another opportunity for workplace based recycling. FluoroCycle is a voluntary product stewardship scheme with Government Accreditation under the SP Act. Its core aim is to increase the national recycling rate of waste mercury-containing lamps and keep waste lamps out of landfill. While not a free program to end-users, it has a strong education and PR focus underpinned by program signatories and facilitators. For more information about the program and its relevance to the workplace, visit the Fluorocycle website.
An ongoing hotspot which flies under the radar yet needs prompt attention by the Australian Government and industry, is the continuing non-recovery of handheld or loose batteries – both single use and rechargeable. While various pilot programs, ALDI and BatteryWorld provide limited take-back and recycling services in some locations, the reality is that millions of batteries still flow into Australian landfills every year.
Some rechargeable batteries contain hazardous substances and it is essential that Product Stewardship programs are designed and funded by key brands such as Duracell, Energizer, Panasonic and various smaller suppliers. The time has come for these brands to make it easy for all battery users, including commercial and institutional consumers to have responsible disposal options. The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative is working hard with governments and industry to establish a permanent national battery recycling scheme. More information here.
Most importantly we need to move to higher levels of environmental performance for products. Driven by life-cycle thinking and good design, the opportunities to close loops and dematerialize are endless provided producers and manufacturers have the appetite for step-change and meeting consumer expectations.
From design and cleaner production, through to greener supply chains and improved community education, it is vital that producers work collaboratively with retailers, government, the waste management industry and researchers to meet consumer expectations, which maximise environmental quality.
The opportunities to create waste-free product solutions that are cradle to cradle based directly facilitate a circular economy. However, we must move beyond ‘old school’ collection and recycling solutions, and focus on upstream priorities including product design, supply chain greening, low emission logistics, reuse, extended product life and environmentally driven consumer innovations.