Wednesday, July 07, 2010

National's hypocrisy on waste

Back in 2008, in the last days of the Fifth Labour Government, Parliament passed the Waste Minimisation Act. Born as a Green member's bill, the Act was heavily modified in select committee. One the core concepts of the bill was "extended producer responsibility", renamed "product stewardship" in the Act. Manufacturers and importers of products with significant downstream environmental effects, such as cellphones, computers, tyres, and plastic bottles, were supposed to take responsibility for those effects. Exactly how would depend on the product, but the government could set clear expectations and enforce them in regulation. Non-complying products could be banned.

The bill passed unanimously. National MPs spoke out in support of the product stewardship provisions. Here's John Carter, now a Cabinet Minister, in the Third Reading debate:

I mentioned yesterday in the Committee debate that car manufacturers came to the select committee and said they would like to see us put a $500 extra cost on to every new car, which could be deposited so that at the end use of the car, rather than have it disposed of by being chucked over a bank, burnt out in a bush somewhere, or left on the side of the road, the car would have a value of at least $500, which would be meaningful to some people. Most people would want to redeem that, and this is the sort of system that can happen when we have container deposit legislation. I think that in time we will move more and more towards that sort of system. The framework is here for that to happen. At the moment it works only on priority products, but I see a time when we will move to that whole system right across the country, and, quite honestly, I for one will be supportive of it. I would encourage it to happen as rapidly as it can.
(Emphasis added)

And here's then environment spokesperson (and now Environment Minister) Nick Smith, during the bill's second reading:

I also endorse the concept in this bill of extended producer responsibility. We all know that whether we use a cellphone, a car, or a whole number of products, we would be able to recycle so much more if the original designer and engineer had thought about how we might be able to recycle the natural resources contained in that product. Again I have to say that I have been quite impressed that there is an increasing awareness by companies of the need to recycle particular things. I like the idea that a number of cell phone companies provide a free service to take back cell phones and to reuse the natural resources within them to manufacture the next generation. I think we have a way to go with car manufacturing, to make sure we can design cars in such a way that we maximise recycling. In the extended producer responsibility provisions of this bill there is the framework within which we will be able to encourage more of that approach.
And there's more stuff from Nicky Wagner, Jacqui Dean and Nathan Guy during the committee stage. In all cases, their message was loud and clear: National supports product stewardship. National wants polluters to take responsibility and clean up their own mess.

So, what has National done in government? Nothing. The very people who declared their support for product stewardship schemes have sat on their thumbs and refused point-blank to declare any products as "priority products" subject to mandatory product stewardship. The same people who thought in opposition that industry wasn't doing enough are now happy to accept their voluntary "efforts".

This is hypocritical, it is lazy, and ultimately it is destroying our environment.