II. Waste minimisation tools

II. Waste minimisation tools

In this article, the focus is on some of the policy tools available to minimise waste so as to transition to a circular economy.  These include:

• The banning of products;

• Introducing regulatory requirements for eco-design, durability and labelling of products;

• Product stewardship; and

• Other waste minimisation policies.

Banning of products

The most drastic tool to avoid unwanted waste or pollution is prohibiting the production, use and/or sale of certain products.  In this context, the ban on single use plastics in many countries is the most visible.  However, there are other examples.

Overseas examples

France’s Anti-Waste Law 2020 (La loi relative à la lutte contre le gaspillage et à l'économie circulaire (1)) is the first to ban the destruction of unsold non-food products. (In 2016, France prohibited the destruction by supermarkets of unsold food products.)  Unsold products will now have to be given away or recycled.  A breach of the law will give rise to substantial penalties.  The ban has been in place since January 2022 for certain products but was extended to further products from 1 January 2023.  An overview in English of France’s Anti-Waste Law is available on the Ellen McArthur foundation website.

Whilst having as its main aim the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, the European Regulation on Deforestation-free Supply Chains deserves mention.  In December 2022, political agreement was reached in Europe to implement the Regulation.  As explained on the European Commission website, companies that want to place relevant products (at this stage: palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, timber and rubber as well as derived products (such as beef, furniture, or chocolate)) on the EU market or export them will have to prove that the products are both deforestation-free (produced on land that was not subject to deforestation after 31 December 2020) and legal (compliant with all relevant applicable laws in force in the country of production).  The European Parliament and the Commission must formally adopt the new Regulation before it can enter into force.  Once the Regulation is in force, operators and traders will have 18 months to implement the new rules.  Micro and small enterprises will enjoy a longer adaptation period, as well as other specific provisions.

Also targeting the reduction of greenhouse gasses, the French Government has banned short-haul flights where a train or bus alternative of two and a half hours or less exists.  In December 2022, following complaints from an airline and an airport, the European Commission reached the view that France acted legally in doing so.

New Zealand

New Zealand is phasing out hard-to-recycle and single use plastics.  The Plastic and Related Products Regulations 2022 (tranche 1), making it illegal to manufacture or sell certain hard-to-recycle and single use plastics, came into force on 1 October 2022.  These regulations  concern, in particular, PVC food trays and containers; (expanded) polystyrene takeaway food and drink packaging; plastic with pro-degradant additives, e.g. oxo and photo degradable plastics; plastic drink stirrers (all plastic types); and plastic stemmed cotton buds (all plastic types). Further plastic products (namely: plastic produce bags, plates, bowls and cutlery, and straws will be phased out from 1 July 2023 under the Waste Minimisation (Plastic and Related Products) Amendment Regulations 2022 (tranche 2).  Plastic labels on domestically grown produce intended for the New Zealand market must by then have a label that is more compostable.  It is intended that all other PVC and polystyrene food and drink packaging will be phased out by mid-2025, under the yet to be finalised regulation for the third tranche of regulation.  Useful guidance on these regulations is provided by the Ministry for the Environment, here.

The Government’s National Plastic Action Plan (2021) is available here.

Eco-design, durability and labelling of products

Eco-design/labelling alone does not of itself change the trajectory of production and consumption of most products which remains linear (i.e. the ultimate destination of the products is landfill).  Accordingly, any roadmap towards circularity cannot look at eco design and labelling alone, but needs also to look at increasing collection, sorting, repair and recirculation systems.  Nonetheless, eco design and labelling is a useful tool.

Overseas examples

In March 2022, the European Commission published its Proposal “establishing a framework for setting eco-design requirements for sustainable products”.  The proposal has yet to be adopted. It establishes a framework to set eco-design requirements for specific product groups to significantly improve their circularity, energy performance and other environmental sustainability aspects.  It will enable the setting of performance and information requirements for almost all categories of physical goods placed on the EU market (with some notable exceptions, such as food and feed).  The framework will allow the implementation of regulation in respect of requirements for product durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability; the presence of substances that inhibit circularity; energy and resource efficiency; recycled content; remanufacturing and recycling; carbon and environmental footprints, and information requirements, including a Digital Product Passport.

An Eco-design regulation for mobile phones and tablets (which sets design standards as to durability and energy efficiency and to improve repairability for mobile phones and tablets) was approved in Europe in principle and is now awaiting formal adoption.

New Zealand

Under part 2 of the Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA) information standards for goods or services can be prescribed.  Labelling standards currently include the fibre content of textile goods, country of origin for clothing, footwear and food, and water efficiency for certain products. There are no other regulations for design, durability or labelling of products from a sustainable/circular economy point of view, comparable to the European Directive described above.

The Ministry for the Environment offers a voluntary sustainability label Environmental Choice New Zealand. The Sustainable Business Council lists a vast array of (voluntary) sustainability certifications available in New Zealand.  Whilst that the intent of these certifications is clear, the obvious disadvantage of having so many is that it may be difficult for consumers to understand what each certification covers and how they compare.  In addition, the certification is voluntary so that manufacturers are not bound to certify their products when they bring them to the New Zealand market.

Product Stewardship, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

The New Zealand Product Stewardship Council describes product stewardship as follows:

“Product stewardship is a policy tool that ensures that the people and organisations who make, sell, use and dispose of a product share responsibility for (1) ensuring that the product is effectively reduced, reused, recycled or recovered (in that order); and (2) minimising the product’s impact on the environment, human health and safety.  Responsibility is shared, but that does not mean it is divided equally.  Effective product stewardship recognises that businesses that make products have the greatest ability (and thus responsibility) to minimise adverse impacts, and should therefore shoulder the costs of product stewardship.  When a product’s social and environmental costs are effectively internalised in this way, producers are strongly incentivised to redesign their products to cause less waste and environmental harm in the first place”.  

EPR schemes place primary responsibility on the producer, importer and sometimes the seller of the product.

Overseas examples

Typically, EPR Schemes cover products such as batteries, tyres, packaging and plastic, cars and whiteware.  However, other products could also be brought within such a scheme.

In the Netherlands, municipalities are currently responsible for the collection and costs of waste collection, including discarded textiles. In most municipalities the infrastructure already exists to collect textile waste separately.  The country is about to introduce an EPR Scheme for textiles (which includes consumer clothing, work and corporate wear, and bed, table -and household linen). The Regulation is expected to enter into force in about July 2023, however, it is yet to be formally approved by the legislator. The draft regulation (Uitgebreide producentenverantwoordelijkheid, UPV) is available (in Dutch) here. The EPR Scheme makes manufacturers (including importers) who bring textiles on to the Dutch market responsible for the costs of the collecting, recycling, re-using and waste phase (and related logistics) in respect of the products they bring on to the market (with an exemption for small businesses).  Overseas sellers or e-commerce businesses are required to appoint a representative in the Netherlands for the purpose of the EPR Scheme.  The manufacturers/importers will be required to report the volume of textile brought onto the market. They are also obliged to recycle or re-use a percentage of that volume, and that percentage is set to increase in the coming years.

Information about the voluntary stewardship and the priority products which are the subject of regulated stewardship in Australia is available on the website of The Australian Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

New Zealand

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 (WMA) gives the Government the ability to recognise both voluntary and mandatory stewardship schemes.  Part 2 of the WMA deals with Product Stewardship and section 8 sets out its purpose.

Many voluntary stewardship schemes already exist. In 2020, as regards regulated stewardship, six products were declared “priority products” under the WMA.  Priority products include plastic packaging, tyres, electrical and electronic products (e-waste including large batteries), agrichemicals and their containers, refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases, and farm plastics. Information about New Zealand Stewardships is available on the website of The Ministry for the Environment.  

Further, the Ministry of the Environment is considering whether to implement a Container Return Scheme. Essentially, that means that the consumer pays for the container/bottle (plastic, glass, metal or paper) and receives back a refundable deposit upon the return of the container to a designated scheme drop-off point for recycling.

Other waste minimisation policies in New Zealand

Many initiatives exist in New Zealand that work towards reducing waste, for example WasteMINZ and Zero Waste Network.

The building industry is one of the four key global systems where reshaping to a more circular business model is considered necessary.  Tools to achieve this include design requirements and waste minimisation.  The New Zealand Green Building Council is a prominent advocate in this space.  In December 2022, the Government announced that it is taking action to reduce waste and lower emissions from the building and construction sector via significant amendments to the Building Act 2004.  The Bill is not yet available but the policy proposal is available on the website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

The food industry is another of the four key global systems which needs changes to make it more sustainable and less wasteful.  As summarised in the Circularity Gap Report 2023,  four actions are needed to make the food industry more circular: (1) Put healthier, satiating foods first.  Promote foods with a lower environmental impact; (2) No more avoidable food waste; (3) Go local, seasonal and organic; and (4) Mainstream regenerative agriculture.  Voices for the adoption of a national food plan are gaining strength.  This could be an opportunity to bring circularity principles into play.  Again, numerous voluntary initiatives (with Government funding) exist in this space, for example the Kai Commitment, the Mana Kai Framework and Fit for a Better World.

On 29 March 2023, the Government announced details of plans for the overhaul of waste legislation. An overview of proposed changes is available on the Beehive website and the website of the Ministry for the Environment.  Proposed legislation to replace the WMA and the Litter Act 1979 has yet to be published.  It is to be hoped that the review will result in rules that can be consistently applied throughout New Zealand, will accommodate future developments, are easy to communicate and will provide for the necessary infrastructure.

Related articles available here: I. Right to repair; III. Advertising and greenwashing; IV. Corporate responsibility.

Related articles