Extended producer responsibility, are we on the right track…at last?

At the end of June the Minister of Environment Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Ms Barbara Creecy published, for comment, draft regulations for extended producer responsibility. After a long delay and some government mis-steps are we on the right track, at last?

The principle of extended producer responsibility forms part of our main waste act. It appears in section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act which was first published in 2008. Until now, however, it has not been acted upon. Instead we have relied on industry waste management plans which have not worked for a number of reasons.

If you made it, convert it, refurbish it, import it… You are responsible for how it’s disposed of!

The concept of extended producer responsibility is simple. If you make something, convert it, refurbish it, own the brand or import it then you are responsible for it even after the consumer has finished with it. As a producer certain obligations will be imposed on you. An example could be a printer ink cartridge. When the consumer has finished using it, the producer must have a plan to reuse or recycle it. It can no longer be thrown away as general waste.

The obligations imposed on producers include joining an organization which will implement a scheme. The organization must be a non profit company which represents the entire value chain of its products. If one does not exist you must form one. The NPO will charge fees which it can keep as opposed to the previous cases where the government kept it. Remember the plastic bag levy?

The NPO will then develop a scheme to deal with their products after the end of their useful life. These schemes typically include reuse, recycle, recovery and waste treatment. In addition, they must include designing the products so as to minimize waste and allow for recycling.

A new wave of reuse, recycle, recovery and waste treatment will become law, are you ready for it?

The NPO also has obligations to monitor, report on and evaluate the performance of the scheme. There will be bi-annual reports and there may be audits by DEFF. The regulations give the DEFF the powers to monitor and enforce producer responsibility. The penalties are not to be taken lightly. A failure to comply can lead to imprisonment for up to 15 years.

This sounds like a lot of work and it is. Fortunately, a number of these NPO’s already exist and have been providing excellent support for the industries for years. The plastics industries has several: Petco, Polyco, Polystyrene and SAVA (vinyl). Each has been supporting its industry’s interests with information, community projects and recycling and appear happy with the draft regulations.

Separate draft regulations have been issued for the paper, packaging and single use products, e-waste and lighting industries. Others will follow. Again there are NPO’s already in place to service some of these industries.

Extended producer responsibility is not a new concept, just one we have not acted upon – until now. Overseas, particularly in Europe, the principle is understood and well developed. Producers have embraced it as a way of implementing the circular economy and it has marketing benefits.

Extended producer responsibility is not a new concept, just one we have not acted upon – until now

Minister Creecy is in a hurry to enact the regulations, but there are already more questions than answers. The period for comment is likely to be extended. Typical examples of issues are: a wine bottle comprises the bottle, the cap, a label, wine and a brand owner – who is the producer? Or retailers stock thousands of items, do they have to join every type of NPO? Lastly, the regulations state NPO’s have to pay a living wage – they can’t afford it and what is a living wage? Once extended producer responsibility is implemented however there should be many benefits for South Africa.

Apart from the reduction in waste to landfill there will be job creation. Waste management and recycling have long been identified as a way of creating jobs quickly. There are limited barriers to entry and few skills which cannot be learned on the job. The work can be done by men and women, young and old. As the producer schemes develop there will be other job opportunities in reuse, design and hopefully infrastructure development.

Smart Waste welcomes the principle of extended producer responsibility as a definite move in the right direction. It will get us, as a society, out of the take, use and dispose way of doing business. It will also wake up those manufacturers who have been happy to sell their product regardless of the consequences.

Smart Waste has over 10 years of experience in recycling and the resources and knowledge to assist in implementing extended producer responsibility schemes. Most importantly, we have worked with extended responsibility schemes in the past and this is not new to us.

Maybe we are on the right track at last.

Recycle Reg
Smart Waste

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