3.11 Consumer responsibility and protection

Consumers are protected by the Waste Act at the same time as having responsibilities in terms of waste management. Section 16 of the Waste Act establishes a general duty in respect of waste management, and sets out various responsibilities for all holders of waste to minimize waste and its toxicity, to manage waste such that it does not endanger health and the environment, and to ensure that waste is disposed of responsibly. Section 16(1) is applicable to all ‘holders of waste’, which includes households and individuals.

Employers are also charged with preventing an employee from contravening this Act, which has implications for labour relations and terms of employment.

Section 16(2) obliges retailers to take reasonable steps to inform the public about the health and environment risks of products that are likely to result in the generation of hazardous waste. This measure needs to be read in conjunction with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) which covers product labelling and trade descriptions. Section 24(4)(a) of the CPA states that the Minister of Trade and Industry may prescribe categories of goods that are required to have a trade description applied to them. This can be applied to goods which produce a category of hazardous waste. Section 24(5) goes on to include imported products within these provisions.

There are some additional measures in the Waste Act which also address labelling requirements and product information. Section 18(2)(e) of the Waste Act stipulates that the Minister may, as part of an EPR scheme, specify the labelling requirements in respect of waste. Further, section 30(2)(h) of the Waste Act states that when notifying an industry of the requirement for an IndWMP, the Minister may, as part of the notification, request that the IndWMP include mechanisms for informing the public of the impact of the waste-generating products or packaging on the environment.

Therefore, if a category of goods is required to have a trade description applied to it due to the health or environmental implications of the waste it produces, this must trigger one of the above waste management measures dealing with information provision and / or labelling. Where a product is imported, labelling requirements should be aligned with the information requirements through the SARS tariff codes (see section 5.5 regarding mechanisms to give effect to international obligations).

DEA will coordinate efforts in respect of product labelling and information with the dti through the bilateral committee established to coordinate the application of waste management measures.

Section 25 of the CPA requires that goods which are reconditioned, rebuilt or remade, and which still bear the original trademarks, must apply a notice to these products stating that they have been reconditioned, rebuilt or remade. This will have implications for the re-use of reconditioned items, in which instance labelling and information requirements must be met.

Section 59 of the CPA stipulates that if a good, or any component, remnant, container or packaging, has been prohibited from disposal into a common waste collection system, the supplier of such an item must accept its return by a consumer, without charge, and in turn, the producer of such items must accept its return by the supplier. Section 59(2) of the CPA states that where IndWMPs or regulations have provided for a goods collection facility for specific waste types, consumers may dispose or deposit such goods at such facilities. It is therefore envisaged that where a prohibition on disposal, as contemplated in Section 59, is brought into effect, this would trigger the development of an appropriate waste management measure. Usually this would be in the form of an IndWMP, but in certain circumstances an EPR programme may be required. A consultative process between the affected parties and DEA will be followed to determine the appropriate measure. Where the provision of take back facilities already exists, mechanisms for informing the public of this provision must be included in the IndWMP or in regulations which provide for the facilities. In addition, norms and standards for the accessibility of the goods collection facility may be required. 

Interpretation issues regarding the requirement to accept returned prohibited waste without charge, specifically in terms of the potential impact this may have on the use of taxes, levies and deposit fee systems have been raised. DEA will develop a guideline to clarify the interpretation of section 59 of the CPA and the associated use of economic instruments for waste management.

Section 16(3) of the Waste Act sets out the measures which may be used in order to implement section 16.  These include measures to:

  • Investigate, assess and evaluate the impact of the waste in question.
  • Cease, modify or control the behaviour which produces the waste.
  • Comply with norms, standards and management practices.
  • Eliminate the cause of the pollution.
  • Remediate the effects of the pollution.

The Minister or MEC may issue regulations regarding the implementation of these measures. DEA will monitor the threats posed by waste to health and the environment on an ongoing basis, and will develop appropriate measures to protect consumers and the environment.