It is no coincidence that my headline is inspired by the 2006 film about former US vice-president Al Gore’s crusade to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming and climate change.
I am certainly no sceptic of Gore’s warnings, which as Ricoh New Zealand managing director Mike Pollok pointed out to me in a recent meeting, are worrying even if you choose to believe even just a portion of it.
And evidently messages like Gore’s have not fallen on deaf ears with the New Zealand government either.
A parliamentary select committee is currently reviewing a proposed bill that addresses one aspect of the current environmental crisis – solid waste.
In part, the proposed Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill aims to deal with waste from electronic equipment, such as PCs, printers and monitors, or e-waste, as it is commonly known.
The bill contains provisions for so-called product stewardship schemes, which the Ministry for the Environment describes as “a cradle-to-grave tool that encourages everyone involved in the manufacture, use and disposal of a product – producers, brand owners, importers, retailers, consumers and other parties – to take greater responsibility for the environmental effects of their product throughout the product lifecycle”.
While this is a laudable initiative it will have to be implemented correctly to be successful, as our columnist on this page Rae Nield points out. Earlier this month she made a strongly-worded submission to the select committee reviewing the bill.
Nield makes an alarming point – if these schemes impose too onerous requirements on manufacturers to offer their products in this country, some may decide not to bother.
This should be a concern for all resellers, retailers and distributors who earn their living from technology products.
Chances are that if a product is not officially available here, it could still make its way into the country through parallel importers. According to Nield the proposed bill does not address the issue of the responsibilities of parallel importers in terms of product stewardship schemes.
This could mean that official distributors and vendors may have to carry the can for product supplied into the country by non-authorised agents. I don’t have to stress how unfair this is.
So the truth about the proposed schemes is that if they are largely inconvenient, the results will be dire – either the entire e-waste effort becomes unenforceable and fails resulting in New Zealand missing a golden opportunity to take a lead on a global issue, or large multinationals simply snub us in favour of less restrictive (and larger) markets, and as Nield warns we could then descend into a third-world technology country.
But I am optimistic of a positive outcome.
I recently attended a consultation session on product stewardship schemes between the Ministry for the Environment and several large hardware vendors. This shows that while the bill that allows for these programmes may have had limited industry input, the ministry responsible for its implementation and enforcement is working with industry to develop sensible policies.
Nield puts forward a very persuasive argument and like Gore’s environmental argument, let us hope her message did not fall onto deaf ears at the recent select committee hearing.
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