Now that 2009 is well and truly upon us, the Ministry for the Environment is starting consultation with IT industry stakeholders that could result in sweeping changes being made to the way we dispose of waste IT products in New Zealand. While a product stewardship scheme for environmentally sound disposal of IT products is a great idea, the devil will be in the detail of the scheme rolled out across New Zealand. If you are in the IT channel, you can and should be a part of the Ministry’s consultation process this year.
Late last year I told you about a new law in New Zealand, the Waste Minimisation Act 2008. That Act creates a new legal framework for regulating disposal of solid waste in New Zealand. Part of that new framework is the creation of “product stewardship schemes” — schemes for recycling and recovering materials from waste products, rather than throwing those products straight into landfill.
This will affect you because IT products are near the top of the Ministry for the Environment’s list of products that should be subject to a mandatory, government-enforced product stewardship scheme.
If a scheme is imposed, then your disposing of even one IT product into landfill could result in a conviction and fine for your firm and for you. Fines of up to $100,000 per offence can be imposed: illegally dumping 10 laptops could potentially be 10 separate offences.
It is possible that an IT industry product stewardship scheme could be in place by Christmas, although some time in 2010 is a more likely timeframe. Before an IT product stewardship scheme can be imposed, the Ministry will consult with the IT industry: This means YOU! Limited, preliminary consultation is already underway. Public consultation — your chance to have your say, could happen as soon as the first half of 2009.
There are some tricky questions that need to be answered during the consultation process. One big question is: What is an “IT product”? Should desktop PCs and laptops be processed through the same scheme as mobile devices and network equipment? Where should the line be drawn? In future, how do we decide if revolutionary new products in the channel are covered by the scheme?
Another big question is: “How will the scheme pay for itself?” I attended consultation meetings with the Ministry for the Environment last year. It is supremely difficult to figure out a way of recovering the costs of processing waste IT equipment in a way that is fair to both large and small players in the IT industry. Also, the scheme needs to cover the cost of disposing of IT equipment manufactured by now-defunct companies (for example, that dead PC General box that you are using as a shelf in the tea room right now).
The best people to figure out the answers to these questions are you, the people on the IT industry frontline. Before a scheme is imposed, you need to be involved and to check that the proposed scheme will work in practice.
We will keep you posted as the Ministry for the Environment issues documents and calls for submissions. Being well informed and involved is your best method for ensuring that the final scheme will work for your business.
PS: Another environmental issue: If your business makes ‘green’, ‘carbon neutral’ or other ‘environmentally sound’ claims, you should check out the Commerce Commission’s recent publication Guidelines for Green Marketing that can be downloaded from the Commission’s website at:
Richard Anstice is a staff solicitor in Rae Nield’s office. This article is intended for general information, and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae and Richard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.