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Paint stewardship scheme warns of waste industry 'rent-seeking'

Friday, 20 July 2018 4:12pm

Waste industry calls for mandatory product stewardship schemes should be viewed with suspicion, according to the organisation operating the voluntary 'Paintback' scheme.

In a submission to the review of the Product Stewardship Act, Paintback warns against allowing "narrowly-focused interests", such as the waste industry, to skew the design of stewardship schemes.

The waste industry is a services provider that is paid by some schemes to support only one part of the stewardship approach - end-of-pipe management of used products, Paintback notes.

Calls by waste companies for mandatory stewardship schemes "are rent-seeking", its submission claims.

"They are an attempt to secure subsidies funded by product stewardship, which would increase waste company profits, without adding any further social value."

Supply chain closely involved

Paintback is a voluntary scheme, not accredited under the Product Stewardship Act, which was established just over two years ago by Dulux, Haymes, PPG, Valspar and Resene.

The scheme's chief executive, Karen Gomez, told Footprint it now has more than 100 collection points, exceeding its target of providing a service to 85% of Australians.

It has so far collected more than 6,000 tonnes of paint and tins, with oil paint used as a waste-derived fuel, the steel recycled, and dewatered sludge from water-based paints currently sent to landfill.

The scheme's R&D activities include investigating better management options for water-based paints and making improvements to packaging, she noted.

Gomez said the scheme has been a success largely because the whole supply chain and all levels of government were involved in its development, under the auspices of Sustainability Victoria.

Once companies decide to collaborate, they "should be given the freedom to design a scheme that works for the product, for the supply chain, and for the market," she said.

The highly-concentrated structure of the paint industry had also helped, she acknowledged.

Benefits of accreditation unclear

Gomez said Paintback had "an open mind" about becoming accredited as a voluntary scheme under the Product Stewardship Act.

But the accreditation process "seems highly bureaucratic and duplicative", she said.

It's also unclear what benefits it would deliver, particularly as the government doesn't allocate significant resources to explaining accreditation to the community, she said.

"If an accreditation is intended to be a mark of quality, then the mark has value only if consumers and the general community know its meaning," the Paintback submission points out.

Lack of harmonisation a problem

Paintback's submission says the proliferation of state-based waste programs has hindered product stewardship initiatives in Australia.

For example, Western Australia's controlled waste regulations – currently under review – impose requirements that are inconsistent with other states.

This has made it harder for Paintback to provide services in Western Australia, it says.

Paintback's NSW roll-out is also well behind schedule, with only 10 collection points in the state, compared to 30 in Queensland and more than 20 in Victoria.

Ironically, this is due to the state government's 'waste less, recycle more' policy initiative, which is establishing community recycling centres across the state, it says.

So far, it has been difficult to integrate an industry-funded paint collection program at these centres, the submission says.

Scheme duplication

Paintback's submission argues that its members should be exempted from the Australian Packaging Covenant, as the industry scheme deals with containers, not just the paint.

Without such an exemption, paint companies that are covenant signatories are effectively cross-subsidising other larger contributors to the packaging waste stream, it says.

Another option, would be to specify that companies joining a stewardship scheme accredited under the Act won't need to be subject to the covenant or the associated National Environment Protection Measure.

Coupled with a streamlined Product Stewardship Act accreditation process, this would make it a much more attractive proposition for Paintback to seek official accreditation, it concludes.

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