A key part of the move to a circular economy is product stewardship, also known as extended producer responsibility. This is where manufacturers, importers, retailers and consumers share the responsibility for the economic, social and environmental impacts of a product throughout its entire 'life cycle'. This 'cradle-to-grave' cycle includes production, handling, purchasing, use, re-use and recycling and upcycling, and as a last resort, disposal.
Examples of extended producer responsibility include the redesign of products to reduce impacts and/or increase the recyclability, implementing recycling and product stewardship schemes and limiting the use of hazardous materials. There are a range of product stewardship schemes in place nationally, some of which are implemented under the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020. The Act provides for voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory product stewardship programs. In Australia these include:
Product stewardship has been identified as a critical element in the 2018 National Waste Policy, National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019, draft Waste Action Plan for Tasmania and the March 2020 Response Strategy to implement the COAG waste export bans on glass, paper, plastic and tyres.
Governments have a key role to play in establishing extended producer responsibility through the supply chain. Many states and territories have put in place their own laws for some schemes - notably Container Deposit/Refund Schemes. The preference of many jurisdictions has historically been to support national schemes under the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020. Such national schemes provide an economy of scale and consistency for industry and business across borders. The National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 and its nationwide implementation is presently being reviewed and the final review paper will be published when finalised.