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Council tackles environmental costs of modern living: Communique.



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COMMUNIQUE

26 October 2005

COUNCIL TACKLES ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF MODERN LIVING

Action to tackle the environmental consequences of modern living was the top priority when Environment Ministers met in Launceston today for the 12th Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) meeting.

Getting manufacturers involved in recycling their products is a key goal of the Council, which brings together Environment Ministers from all states and territories, as well as a representative of local government and Environment Ministers from New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Ministers reported strong progress in recycling of tyres, televisions, mobile phones and newspapers, but said action was needed quickly to improve the way the computer industry managed its waste.

The Council also stressed that retailers and consumers need to do more to reduce their plastic bag use. Major supermarket signatories to the Australian Retailers Association Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Carry Bags have achieved an approximate 34% reduction in plastic bags by June 2005, however a substantial increase in effort will be required to meet the 50% reduction target in the next 67 days.

The Council also adopted a clearer application trigger for the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure which supports the National Packaging Covenant. The Covenant seeks to reduce packaging waste going to landfill by 65%. This new trigger will ensure brand owners that do not have a significant impact on the packaging waste stream are not unfairly targeted. Further work will be undertaken to ensure this trigger is being set at the right level.

Ministers tackled pollution by adopting a National Action Plan on dioxins, addressing dioxin emissions to air, soil and water. They also called for public input into a review of the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM). The review will assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of the NEPM, and may lead to the adoption of new air quality standards.

PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP - MANAGING PRODUCTS FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE

Computers

While some industries were making impressive progress towards managing the recycling of their products, including tyres, televisions, mobile phones and print products, others were lagging seriously behind.

The Council was concerned with the slow progress by the computer industry in setting up a voluntary scheme to manage computers when they reach the end of their life cycle.

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Ministers acknowledged the efforts of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) in developing a proposal for a possible product stewardship programme for computers and related products. However, they said the proposal does not adequately cover the computer sector.

In particular, the proposal only applies to the 10% of the computing sector that are members of the AIIA. These businesses account for only 50% of the market. Ministers were disappointed the proposal does not explain what can be done to recycle existing computers in homes and businesses.

In the interests of developing an industry wide strategy, Ministers agreed their governments would work with the computer sector to investigate alternatives to the voluntary scheme. The Council requested officials to explore a range of options to improve the computer industry’s performance, including regulatory action. Ministers required that the options be set out in a more robust proposal to be provided to the Council at its next meeting in April 2006. The Australian Government Minister will host a roundtable meeting with the industry in the interim to progress the issues.

Ministers acknowledged the efforts of IT companies that were acting responsibly and had voluntarily set up recycling systems, and said it was important that any options considered should not disadvantage those doing the right thing already.

At a broader level, development of a Product Stewardship NEPM, to encourage better recycling across a wide range of industries is underway. The draft NEPM will provide a national framework and safety net for voluntary agreements with industry sectors. It is due to be released for public consultation in mid 2006, along with an Impact Statement and draft schedules for implementing the NEPM in particular sectors.

Tyres and televisions The Council congratulated those sectors already advanced in developing their voluntary schemes, announcing that the tyre and television industries were on track to present draft product stewardship plans at the April 2006 meeting.

Newspaper recycling Council congratulated the Australian community and newspaper industry for their commitment to recycling, and endorsed a record fourth voluntary product stewardship plan that will run from 2006-2010. Ministers agreed that the voluntary scheme run through the industry’s association, the Publishers National Environment Bureau, was the most successful example of voluntary product recycling in Australia. The industry has delivered against its targets for increasing recycling of newspapers and magazines for each five-year plan since these were initiated in 1990. The current recycling rate of 74% for newspapers and magazines is the highest in the world.

Mobile phones Ministers were pleased to receive a progress report on the substantial progress in negotiations with the mobile phone industry to develop targets that address the transparency, visibility, and sustainability of the national Mobile Phone Industry Recycling Program. Governments would continue to work with the industry to assist in the roll-out of a national education and awareness campaign and would continue discussions on the mechanics of a possible national agreement.

MORE ACTION NEEDED ON PLASTIC BAGS

The Council has called for retailers, and in particular major supermarket retailers, to do more to reduce their plastic bag usage, after a report by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) on the Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Carry Bags indicated lower than anticipated progress towards the 50% reduction target by the end of the year.

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Ministers acknowledged that the current reduction of 34% is a good achievement, but said a substantially increased effort is needed in the next two months if retailers are to meet the 50% target by Christmas.

The ARA report detailed reductions in the use of single-use lightweight plastic carry bags by signatories to the Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Bags in the period January to June 2005.

Ministers reiterated the importance of meeting the 50% target in the Code, which is essential for the Council to support the proposed agreement to phase out plastic bags by the end of 2008.

SIMPLER WASTE PACKAGING RULES FOR SMALL BUSINESS

Council has ensured that small business owners will now have a simpler way to work out if they are affected by the Used Packaging Materials NEPM. The NEPM provides support to the National Packaging Covenant, by requiring larger brand owners that are not signatories to the Covenant to set up systems to take back and process a percentage of their used packaging.

The Council has agreed to a new threshold that clearly states that businesses with an annual turnover of more than $5 million will have to comply with the requirements of the NEPM. Businesses with turnovers of less than $2 million will not have to comply.

The new threshold will provide greater clarity and certainty for small business and confirmed Ministers’ intention that businesses producing small amounts of waste would not be affected by the NEPM requirements.

This will replace a more complex system that based applicability on market share, and made it difficult for smaller operators to work out what their obligations were.

The Council agreed to defer consideration of the 25-tonne application trigger to small business brand owners in the $2 million - $5 million category until April 2006. Further research will be undertaken to inform Council on the likely compliance impact on these businesses and the contribution that businesses in this category make to the waste stream.

NATIONAL ACTION PLAN TO TACKLE DIOXINS

Following a public consultation period in July and August 2005, Council endorsed a National Action Plan on dioxins, ensuring that Australia's dioxin emissions, which are low by world standards remain low or further decrease.

The National Action Plan includes actions aimed at dioxins in food, agricultural commodities and industrial wastes, and dioxin emissions to air, soil and water. The Plan is now ready to implement.

Dioxins are a group of toxic persistent organic chemicals that remain in the environment for a long time. They are not deliberately produced, but are released into the environment as a result of combustion and other chemical processes.

The National Action Plan will contribute towards meeting Australia's obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

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AIR QUALITY

Review of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM Environment Ministers today launched the review of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM with the release of an Issues Scoping Paper for public consultation. Ministers encouraged stakeholders to make use of this opportunity to have a say about the review. The Ambient Air Quality NEPM was made in 1998 and established national ambient air quality standards for the “common” air pollutants to protect the health of the Australian population. The review will assess the effectiveness of the NEPM in meeting its goals and may lead to the adoption of new air quality standards.

Ozone report released The Council also released a report into ozone standards which will be a key element of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM review. Recent health studies provide strong evidence that links ozone pollution with ill health, even at relatively low levels. The findings of the report related to the health effects of ozone and background ozone levels. The NEPM currently has standards to protect against one and four hour exposures to ozone pollution. The report recommends that an eight hour standard to protect against longer exposure periods should be considered in the review.

NATIONAL GUIDELINES FOR WATER RECYCLING

The Environment Protection and Heritage Council agreed to release a draft set of national guidelines for water recycling for public comment, subject also to consideration by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on 27 October 2005.

The guidelines are expected to assist in long-term planning and development of water reuse schemes, and come at a time when there is considerable pressure to increase water recycling to cope with ongoing drought and increasing demand for water.

The guidelines include a risk management framework and specific guidance on managing the health risks and environmental risks associated with the use of recycled water. The guidelines are being developed in two phases. Phase One focuses on sewage effluent and greywater, and will be available for public comment from October 2005 to February 2006.

Phase Two, expected to be developed from 2006, will address stormwater reuse, aquifer storage and recovery as a method of recycling reclaimed water and potable use of recycled water.

ABOUT THE EPHC

The Environment Protection and Heritage Council is made up of ministers from all states and territories, as well as the Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea governments. The Australian Local Government Association is an observer on the Council. The Council aims to ensure that governments work together with communities to achieve and enhance a healthy natural and cultural environment in harmony with social and economic goals.

For enquiries please contact:

Dr Bruce Kennedy NEPC Service Corporation

Phone: 08 8419 1200

All documents are available from: http://www.ephc.gov.au/