Will landfill be history by 2030?

By Phil Crawford

Northland bay
For the past two years we’ve been promoting product stewardship. That’s when businesses take responsibility for the products they make, buy and sell so they’re not ending up in landfill. The campaign has built good momentum but what could product stewardship look like in 2030? Here are some predictions from people in the know.

James Griffin, General Manager Projects and Advisory, Sustainable Business Network

In 2030 we will look back and wonder why, as a society, we ever let businesses produce, sell and distribute products without taking any responsibility for the environmental impacts once they left the factory gates.

A decade from now waste to landfill will be socially unacceptable. Well formed product stewardship schemes will provide businesses with a license to operate. At the same time there will be overwhelming evidence that a product stewardship approach has delivered solutions designed to support a truly low carbon circular economy. Making a linear economy-based product a bit more ‘circular’ at the end of life will be an old memory.

Mandatory product stewardship in New Zealand will have expanded to other sectors beyond the six we have now. Export markets will simply not accept products without evidence of stewardship in place.

Businesses will have incorporated circular economy elements into their business models, such as smart material choices. Along with new technologies used in production processes, this will dramatically extend the useful life of their products. In turn, this will reduce the burden on end of life infrastructure, like landfill. Customers will relish the greater ‘value’ this provides – from lower costs to better service and  will appreciate the environmental benefits.

Certainly, by 2030 there will be no need for a campaign and directory supporting product stewardship as we have in 2021. Product stewardship will be truly integrated into all of the products we use.

Emma Harding, Risk & Compliance Manager – Sustainability & Circular Economy, Fuji Xerox New Zealand

As we look ahead to 2030, the rapid pace of change we see in the fields of technology and design is likely to continue. Combined with an increase in the regenerative frameworks adopted by cities to align with Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, our prediction is we will see product stewardship become the norm within business and society.

So, what could this look in practice?

Initially there will be an increase in the investment and planning of waste recovery, disposal and recycling infrastructure, and more streamlined approaches to handling waste, as the world continues to look for solutions for materials that cannot be recycled.

In turn, this will encourage further regulation on products, increase the number of mandatory schemes and greater transparency over supply chains from materials sourcing through to end of life will be expected.

Consequently, organisations will become more efficient and inventive in the way they design their products with a greater focus on closed-loop design and manufacturing, which will see the rise of new technologies and encourage more open source materials/ frameworks to support future designs.

As a result, we will see a reduction in the use of excess material and needless packaging, enabling not only more efficient products but also ones that restore and regenerate ecosystems and become part of a more circular supply chain that supports the function of other products.

By 2030, we predict that product stewardship and its role in transitioning us to a more circular economy will open the gateway to more jobs, a healthier economy and significant reductions in carbon and utilisation of raw materials.

Adele Rose, Chief Executive, 3R Group

As evidenced over the last decade, the voluntary approach to product stewardship has had limited success, largely due to the issue of free-riders.  This, and the continued increases in volume of waste to landfill, are among the motivating factors for the Government to use the powers of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and declare six product categories as priority products in 2020.

By 2030, we fully expect central government, regardless of which party is in power, to have announced further priority products, leading to more regulated product stewardship schemes being developed.  With the upcoming review of the Waste Minimisation Act, the announcement of a new waste strategy and the implementation of the increased waste levy, we should see a more targeted approach to which products fall under regulation.

The development and implementation of the first regulated schemes will have a big impact on how companies respond to regulation – will they sit back and wait for regulation or will they follow the example of those such as the oil companies with their proposed Lubricant Container Stewardship Scheme and the paint industry who have just formed a working group for an all-of-industry scheme?  These proactive companies are looking to take responsibility ahead of regulation which is what their customers are demanding but it also allows them to have more control over the scope, e.g. including stewardship of the contents (non-regulated) as well as the packaging (regulated).  We are confident they will be rewarded for this approach.

Over the next ten years, we will see well-designed product stewardship schemes incentivise change further up the waste hierarchy.  Waste avoidance and minimisation, design for refill, repair and recycling, all these things will become more common due to the higher costs of stewarding products that don’t have a circular solution or that simply have to be disposed of to landfill.

The rate of change in consumer expectations and behaviour change over the last five years has been phenomenal.  Alongside companies and government, we believe this third part of the puzzle, consumers, will continue to drive further product stewardship development (both regulated and voluntary) as the concept becomes better understood.

To ensure the success of product stewardship, Government will need to play a stronger role in creating demand for recycled products through its procurement policies. Education too will be critical in helping consumers understand that for a circular economy to work, there needs to be a demand for recycled products; the current demonisation of plastic has not helped this.

Overall, we expect to see considerably more stewardship schemes (both voluntary and regulated); schemes designed to higher, more consistent, standards (i.e. following Government guidelines for accreditation); more recognition from consumers of the value of stewardship and therefore greater demand; and a better understanding of the need to create pull through for recycled products through stronger procurement policies.