The Federal Government will need to create more than 1000 electronic-waste collection points — some 800 more than currently planned — to meet its 2020 recycling targets.
After more than a decade since the problem of dumped toxic e-waste entered the political arena, the government has backed an industry-lead scheme to prevent some 17 million computers and TVs from going into landfill each year.
Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, said the government aims to recycle 80 per cent of all televisions and computer products by 2020. Collection facilities are planned for all capital cities using a mix of existing recycling stations and new depots which will be constructed under the scheme.
Dave West, technical consultant with waste-avoidance group, Boomerang Alliance, has worked with the big IT companies, green groups and government during consultations. He said the government will need to expand the number of collection points to encourage consumers to recycle.
“About 200 [collection points] are planned but it will take about 1000 to make it attractive and available to consumers,” West said.
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) chief executive officer, Ian Birks, told Computerworld the 80 per cent recycle target is well suited to the address the e-waste problem.
“The plan will be introduced in February 2011 [and] will be initially focused on the big cities where most of the demand for waste is [and] where many will have recycling schemes in place,” Birks said, adding that the first five years of the plan have already been laid out.
“Switzerland and the Netherlands have taken more than a decade to reach an over 80 per cent clearance of available e-waste and they have a much smaller geographical space than Australia.”
AIIA manager corporate social responsibility, Josh Millen, said Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) will manage compliance and finance and uphold recycling standards.
“There is a systematic approach to running the scheme [where] anyone who wants to sell into the market has to be in a PRO scheme,” Millen said. He added that while each PRO will govern a different product, large electronic companies may create their own schemes.
“Ninety-five per cent of imports [of electronic goods] are made by 100 companies, yet the remainder is done by 10,000, so legislation needs to make sure everyone is [compliant].”
The organisations could also be used to enforce better manufacturing processes, answering calls by green groups to minimise the use of toxic components in electronic products.
Millen said curbside collection of e-waste is not feasible because it puts additional strain on already overburdened councils. “If door-to-door was the best way to run logistics, the retail industry would still be knocking on doors.”
The e-waste recycling charter, dubbed the Product Stewardship Compact for Computers and Computer Peripherals, gained unanimous support in May last year from computer and television manufacturers including Dell, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Panasonic which signed the agreement.
Only about 4 per cent of the 140,000 tonnes of e-waste dumped by Australians each year is recycled. According to 2009 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, 1.6 million PCs ends up in landfill every year. The ABS also found that 5.3 million PCs were in garages, and a further 1.8 million were in storage. And that doesn't take into account the other types of e-waste, such as televisions, which are thrown out each year.
West said the diversion of toxic materials, rather than salvage of recyclable materials, is the main catalyst behind the policy. Computers and TVs contain toxic materials like lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium.
“There are a lot of toxic materials in computers and one of the great parts of the scheme is that waste will be reprocessed in Australia,” West said, adding that western countries are guilty of offloading some of the toxic materials and components too expensive to recycle to developing nations.
Indonesia, Thailand and India are some of Australia’s dumping grounds. Australia presently lacks the $200-$300 million facilities required to recycle batteries and further reduce plastics and metals, however West said the government will do “as much reprocessing as possible” in Australia.
E-waste is the fastest growing waste product globally, according to Greenpeace. The problem is exacerbated not only by the inclusion of toxic materials, but by the low value of recycled products such as steel which fails to recover recycling costs.
The government previously , one of many previously under consideration, that would pay for recycling of all branded and whitebox e-waste goods using a tax collected at the point-of-sale. Birks previously said the preferred option is for the cost to be born on the manufacturers because it will encourage them to create products that can be recycled more efficiently. He said the scheme should be regulated by the federal government rather than the states to ensure consistency.
Manufacturers and importers of computer and televisions have supported the proposal through the AIIA and some, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have run voluntary low-cost or free recycling campaigns.
Computer vendors including Dell, Fujitsu, Apple, and IBM have participated with the AIIA, Sustainability Victoria and the City of Boroondara in a long-term recycling initiative dubbed ‘ByteBack’ which allows Victorian residents and businesses to recycle IT equipment free of charge.