Ewaste industry shakeup-: Government’s tough action against pollution poses challenge for recyclers.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Australia’s ewaste system is 10 years behind Europe, Asia and the United States. Our e-waste is simply tossed in with the rest of the household rubbish, to clutter up landfill and gradually leach chemicals into the surrounding environment.
How big a problem is ewaste?
As enthusiastic early adopters of technology, Australians reportedly buy around 4 million computers and 3 million TVs every year of which, according to Clean up Australia, 88% will end up in landfill.
Further, electronic waste was responsible for 70% of the toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium and mercury found in landfill and is being sent to landfill at three times the rate of general waste.
Think about how often you replace your phone, computer or other electronic device and it will give you some idea of the scale of the problem.
In the past, countries including Australia shipped their electronic waste to developing nations for disposal, only to create massive, dangerous piles of waste in countries that can’t afford to deal with it. Read here for more information about this and a fascinating article on how the future of socially responsible e-waste could look.
Changes afoot: Government takes action
However, with events unfolding in the last 2-3 years it seems clear that Government has taken on board and is prioritising action against the potential damage of huge volumes of electronic waste entering landfill and the social responsibility aspect of recycling.
Starting with end-of-life TVs and computers, the Department of Environment has enacted various requirements which appear to be just the beginning of a tightening up of Australian recycling industry standards.
New Standards and regulations – unfolding events.
|2013||Standards Australia releases a standard for the collection and recycling of ewaste
In Australia and New Zealand. The standard (AS/NZS 5377:2013 Collection, storage, transport and treatment of end of life electrical and electronic equipment) specifies how different types of e-waste should be managed. For more information about the four types and their requirements click here to read our webpage
|2014||The Department of the Environment issued regulations around the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).
The aim of the scheme was to achieve 30% TV and computer recycling in 2012 and 80% by 2021. The scheme is funded by a levy against TV and computer importers.
|2015||Targets for ewaste recycling have been increased
• 50 per cent for 2015/16 – an increase of 13 per cent;
The 2015/16 target translates to approximately 10,050 extra tonnes of ewaste rescued from landfill with an estimate total for the year of in excess of 53,000 tonnes.
(The above as part of The Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Amendment Regulation 2015 released in July.)
|2015||Compulsory certification to AS 3577 standard for Ewaste recyclers of TVs and computers.
Amended legislation includes new rules for businesses recycling e-waste. From 1 July 2016, the recycling of television or computer products in Australia must be done by “recyclers and facilities certified to and in compliance with the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 5377:2013”.
When announcing the above changes for recyclers, Greg Hunt said, “This will ensure that e-waste is recycled safely and to the best environmental standards. Recyclers will have until 1 July 2016 to become certified to the standard.”
The regulation also updates the scaling factors used in the methodology to calculate waste, so that they accurately reflect the volume of electronic products entering the waste stream each year
The challenge for Ewaste recyclers and allied providers
The implication of the new arrangement is that any company not certified to AS 5377 will not be able to compete for contracts for TV and computer ewaste processing under the umbrella of the co-regulatory scheme.
Companies who are involved with the storage, transport or recycling of e-waste need to be certified to AS 5377 by June 2016, however they only need to be certified against the section which applies to the work they do. For example, if a company only transports e-waste, it will only need to be certified against that section.
AS 5377 is a technical standard which, unlike ISO 9001 and other management system standards, is highly prescriptive in terms of requirements for compliance.
The challenge (particularly for smaller providers who lack formal infrastructure and human resources) is how to set up a system in a timeframe which leaves little room for organic development.
Further, the E-waste industry supports a social enterprise model with employed workers often having additional challenges around language/ learning difficulties.
The thorny issue companies will face will be how to translate the technical requirements of the standard into a methodology that can be easily understood and complied with in a short timeframe by an unskilled workforce while at the same time not putting an undue ongoing time/ cost burden on the companies to maintain.
The future for Ewaste recycling?
There is already talk of expanding the scope of the existing E-waste legislation to include all electronic products sooner rather than later as according to Victorian Environment Minister Lisa Neville: “Developing a better plan for e-waste will help create jobs, grow our recycling industry and preserve our environment for all Victorians to enjoy.”
However, it remains to be seen what percentage of existing suppliers succeed in achieving compliance in a viable sustainable way by the deadline of July 2016. Those existing suppliers and enterprising newcomers who are able to, would seem to be well placed to capture the lion’s share of a growing portfolio of ewaste work now and into the future.