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Submission to the review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011

Introducing the Brisbane Tool Library Inc

The Brisbane Tool Library Inc is a not for profit organisation that lends to its members hand and power tools, camping and sport equipment.  Our main objectives are to:

  • promote a sharing and circular economy
  • reduce overconsumption by decreasing the purchase of infrequently used items. Members borrow rather than purchase these items. We call this ‘access not ownership’.
  • reduce waste by maximising the use of, and the useful life of products, through sharing, proper maintenance and where possible repair of products.
  • reduce waste by including in the library used equipment destined for the landfill. These items are ‘rescued’ through enabling people to directly donate, collecting items at kerbside collections, and through our partnerships with businesses that are contracted to remove unwanted items from properties (including items that have never been taken out of their packaging)
  • educate people to reduce their consumption, re-use and recycle
  • conduct practical workshops which skill people to reuse and recycle
  • promote a fairer society through making expensive items available to people on low incomes through concessional membership
  • create skilled and satisfying work experience opportunities and job opportunities in the new, green economy, for those disadvantaged in the labour market

In-built obsolescence

In our operation of the Brisbane Tool Library Inc, we constantly find ourselves in the frustrating situation of having to reject, or send to landfill, donations of products which are in good condition, except that one or two components of the item have failed and are not repairable.  Generally the reasons for failure are poor design, poor quality parts, poor workmanship, or intentional design decisions to limit the life of the product, known as in-built in obsolescence.

Other countries have strong laws to combat in-built obsolescence.  For example

  • France requires manufacturers to inform consumers how long their appliances will last. French and must inform consumers how long spare parts for the product will be available, or risk a fine of up to €15,000 (£11,000).  Known as the “Hamon Law,” it is the first law passed by a country that creates preventive measures against planned obsolescence.
  • The European Parliament approved a resolution on a longer lifetime for products. As a result, users of electronic devices are able to repair their terminals with any service provider simply, without the need to resort to the manufacturer’s official technical service. The directive also includes fiscal incentives for products based on quality, durability and ease of repair. Fines of up to 300,000 euros and prison terms of two years are the penalties for manufacturers who plan for their devices to stop functioning after a time.

We urge the Government to adopt strong anti-obsolescence framework through the Product Stewardship Act. We fully endorse the recommendations contained in the Australian Earth Laws Alliance submission to this review to ensure the greater durability of products sold in Australia and to reduce the harmful environmental effects of product manufacture. These recommendations are:

  • Mandatory existing environmental design standards to be applied to all relevant products made, imported and sold in Australia. These standards would require Australian companies to manufacture, import or sell products that are designed to be durable and exist for their optimal lifetime, and that can easily be upgraded, repaired and recycled where technically possible.
  • Amend the objects of the Product Stewardship Act 2011 (Cth) so that a core objective of the Act is to reduce energy and water use and reduce emissions.
  • The Product Stewardship Act 2011 (Cth) should state that in considering the environmental impacts of products, decision makers will draw on contemporary scientific knowledge, and use an evidenced based approach. Environmental impacts of products must include an assessment of the life cycle of the product, and its contribution to the cumulative impacts of pollution and resource use.  Ecological integrity, Earth systems science and planetary boundaries should be explicitly mentioned in the Act, as the foundations for assessing environmental impacts of products.
  • The Product Stewardship Act 2011 (Cth) should state that in considering the environmental impacts of products, decision makers recognise the rights of nature to exist, thrive, evolve and regenerate, and will assess the cumulative impacts of products on the ecological integrity and health of the natural world.

AELA’s proposed changes to the Act would strengthen the requirements placed on manufacturers and importers in Australia, and give consumers a stronger legal foundation for taking action under the Australian Consumer Law when products break or unable to be repaired.

In addition, we make the following recommendations:

  • Set minimum standards for repairing products.
  • Require manufacturers to include information on product labels about the length of an item’s “expected useful life.”
  • Require manufacturers to provide consumers with instructions for repairing the products as needed and keeping spare parts available for purchase (as is the case in Germany). If repairs are not possible due to a lack of spare parts, the product labeling must clearly indicate the unavailability of spare parts, allowing consumers to make decisions before their purchases.

Systemic change

The Act alone will not address the systemic problems of consumption and waste.  Government policies also need to:

  • Support the move from a ‘growth’ economy to a ‘well being’ economy which is materially-light, service rather than product driven, product access rather than product ownership driven, enlarges rather than shrinks the availability of public goods, and is more concerned with promoting high employment industries rather than with productivity gains (Jackson 2017)
  • Change cultural narratives so that as a society we value interconnectedness, community belonging and nature over material accumulation. There is an overwhelming evidence base that income and possessions above quite a low threshold do not bring about greater satisfaction with life. The primary role of Government is to create the conditions of greater well being, not increasing economic growth. Economic growth does not necessarily lead to greater happiness but does lead to catastrophic environmental damage.

Join with other Governments that are looking at alternatives to gdp/gni as a measure of national wellbeing. This measure is deficient for a number of reasons, but in the context of product stewardship, it includes as ‘positive’ the national income that is derived from manufacturing and selling poorly designed products and from poor waste management processes that are damaging to the environment and people’s