Publishers are leading the way on recycling with ‘product stewardship’

Product stewardship schemes establish a means for relevant parties in the product chain to share responsibility for the products they produce, handle, purchase, use and discard.

The Product Stewardship Act 2011 provides the framework to effectively manage the environmental, health and safety impacts of products, and in particular those impacts associated with the disposal of products. The framework includes voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory product stewardship.

Australian businesses, across a wide range of sectors, have been working to reduce the environmental impacts of their operations and products. In many sectors industries have, or are developing, voluntary product stewardship schemes. These include “mobile-muster” for the return of old mobile phones and “drum-muster” for farm chemical containers.

Long before any government took product stewardship seriously the newspaper and magazine publishers determined that the choice was to act voluntarily or alternatively allow the legislators to impose environment taxes or perhaps even more insidious – what amounted to restrictions of freedom to run a business – through proposed mandated recycled fibre content regulations supported by business leaders such as Visy Industries.

Visy even campaigned in Victoria that publishers use a minimum content of Victorian sourced post-consumer fibre and they offered to build the newsprint mill to help the industry meet the requirement.

Twenty-two years ago the Publishers National Environment Bureau (PNEB) was formed and partnered with newsprint supplier Norske Skog to commit to the National Environmental Sustainability Agreement (NESA), the most recent version running 2011-2015.

This partnership is the first of its kind in the world and it ensures the industry can work in a united way as challenges arise.  Elsewhere in the world, some publishers have damaged the industry by providing disparate responses to the environmental challenge and newsprint publishers have upped the ante in making environmental claims a competitive edge.

For example, 13 states in the United States of America have some form of legislation on recycled fibre content or recycling that affects newspaper publishers, but at one stage some publishers in Massachusetts and Connecticut decided it was cheaper to pay the state penalty than to meet the environmental legislation.

The NESA commitments have successfully to date ensured the industry is recognised (by government) as good environmental product stewardship stewards.

Publishers have demonstrated their commitment to supporting recovery and recycling of newspapers and magazines by:

  • Recycling all printed waste;
  • Recycling newsagents’ returns secured by publishers;
  • Recycling newsprint end-of-reel residue, wrappers and cores.

Publishers support newspaper and magazine recycling by:

  • Donating at least $1 million in free advertising space in member newspapers and magazines each year for the NESA term. (State and Commonwealth governments use the space to advertise newspaper recovery initiatives);
  • Providing education materials about recycling of newspapers and magazines free to schools and local government waste education officers to encourage environmentally sustainable behaviours;
  • Maintaining a website covering sustainable environmental practices, including newspaper and magazine recycling and recycling in general;
  • Running competitions encouraging post-consumer recycling;
  • Producing and publishing accurate data to advance recycling;
  • Supporting conferences and events that align with objectives;
  • Organising public and professional awareness sponsorships and campaigns.

Furthermore, publishers have underwritten the continued viability of recycled content in newsprint by specifying use of recycled fibre in newsprint contracts.

Lillias Bovell is the executive director (environment), The Newspaper Works.

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