Are you responsible for the products you sell?

By Andy Kenworthy

The days of designing, producing and distributing products without worrying about where it all ends up are over. SBN’s product stewardship roadshows are here to help you take up the challenge.

The government is currently proposing the staged expansion of mandatory product stewardship. This should be a wakeup call for many businesses. The Waste Minimisation Act created this option back in 2008. It compels businesses to play an active role in facilitating the responsible handling of materials throughout their life cycle. Ideally this means from raw materials to products and back to raw materials for future products.

The government proposes to activate these rules for six priority products. Packaging, tyres, e-waste, refrigerants, agrichemicals and farm plastics are first to be targeted. (Have your say now if these are products you work with.) Given the huge upsurge in concern about waste and pollution it is unlikely that they will be the last.

The Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is helping businesses prepare to meet these challenges. It has created a product stewardship roadshow with workshops up and down the country featuring partners 3R Group, Abilities Group, Fuji Xerox and Inzide Commercial. These will promote and support the creation of voluntary take back schemes for products beyond the scope of the proposed new rules.

The workshops will provide inside knowledge from successful businesses already doing this. They will give participants the tools to establish their business’ product stewardship potential. They will look at ways to extend product life as well as design and establish systems for reprocessing and remanufacture.

Financial support for this project has been received from the Waste Minimisation Fund, which is administered by the Ministry for the Environment.

James Griffin leads SBN’s work on the circular economy, of which this is a part.

He says: “Product stewardship provides a foundation for creating a circular economy. Taking account of the environmental impacts of all life stages of products, including end of life, gives businesses an incentive for more circular design. This means choosing designs and materials that may be longer lasting, easier to repair or more readily reused or genuinely recycled.”

Peter Thomas is managing director of Fuji-Xerox New Zealand, one of the partners in the workshop programme.

He says: “Fuji Xerox will highlight what we’ve learned through our experience, as well as some of the ongoing challenges we face in our product stewardship efforts. We’ll cover how our Ministry for the Environment-accredited product stewardship programme works and has evolved in recent years, and some of the innovative projects we’ve undertaken to find novel uses for waste materials and promote circular economy solutions.”

SBN is particularly supportive of including plastic packaging for mandatory product stewardship. SBN is running a series of plastic packaging masterclasses in partnership with Foodstuffs, NZ King Salmon and the Ministry for Primary Industries. These bring together industry experts, business leaders and regulators. They enable businesses to make more informed packaging decisions that work within the current system and help shape the future one.

Many of the participating companies are signatories to the New Plastics Economy (NPEC) Global Commitment. The initial commitment is to ensure 100% of plastic packaging is easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025. One of the goals of the masterclass series is to enable companies to meet and exceed this commitment.

SBN is demonstrating how these systems can recapture valuable resources for businesses. They can help build better relationships with customers. The product stewardship roadshows will be followed up with a national campaign encouraging business buyers to ask: “What will I do with this at the end of its life?” when purchasing. This is intended to incentivise the creation of more voluntary product stewardship schemes. It also aims to make product stewardship considerations a normal aspect of business buying.

Steve Aschebrock, Managing Director of product stewardship campaign partner INZIDE Commercial has a simple message for procurers. “As a responsible user/specifier you must always ask what happens at the end of the life of the product. And don’t think that using recycled content is enough – it must be recyclable at the end of its life. Otherwise, in the end it’s really just waste transfer from overseas to NZ landfill.”