Local councils across Australia are split on whether to ban curb-side collection of electronic waste to keep toxic chemicals out of landfill two months after the Federal Government announced a national recycling scheme.
It's an issue that has divided a city and now looks like dividing the nation. Sydney's Pittwater Council, under the Shore Regional Organisation of Councils (SHOROC), was the first in the country to put a ban on the collection of e-waste including televisions, computers and other electrical equipment. Its decision comes ahead of federal legislation that will see hundreds and possibly thousands of recycling depots installed across Australia.
As a result residents in the region, on the northern side of Sydney Harbour including Manly, Mosman, Pittwater and Warringah, now must “take the initiative” and either dump their e-waste at one of 20 recycling depots or hold onto their equipment until a designated council recycling day, the first of which will be held late next month.
SHOROC said the decision was taken because toxic e-waste chemicals like lead, cadmium and mercury cost more than $1500 per tonne to dispose of safely.
At a National General Assembly of Local Government in June last year Pittwater Council proposed that all councils consider implementing a ban on the dumping of e-waste into landfill. Council community relations officer Sally Williams said all councils had agreed to investigate the proposal.
“All councils agreed to consult their communities about a ban [on e-waste landfill disposal],” Williams told Computerworld. “Across Australia it is gathering steam.”
Yet, Sydney City Council which is across the other side of Sydney Harbour, has not introduced a ban. Instead of stopping curb-side collection it has held quarterly e-waste recycling days which have collected more than 40 million tonnes since early 2008.
Many state-based local government associations representing local councils and contacted by Computerworld have favoured state-enforced legislation, rather than bans by councils, to maintain consistency.
In the southern states of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, the state governments have considered state-wide bans on e-waste disposal into landfill. However, it is too early to say whether such legislation will be proposed.
The Australian Local Government Association had thrown its weight behind bans, but executive director of policy and research John Pritchard could not comment on the position of individual councils.
“The motion is not binding… we fully support the scheme and the Commonwealth legislation. Some [councils] have taken the view that people should hold off with their e-waste disposal until recycling systems are in place,” Pritchard said.
“Our view is that we would encourage councils and consumers to work with … the national scheme.”
Contrary to their northern Sydney counterparts, Western Australia and the Northern Territory councils have not banned e-waste disposal into landfill. While talks about improving the availability of e-waste recycling are underway by the WA government, according to the Northern Territory Department of Environment and Conservation, no such recycling systems exist in its region.
A spokesperson in charge of waste management in the Territory told Computerworld all recycling had to be shipped to South Australia for processing and then aboard, and that there are no systems for e-waste recycling on offer from government or private industry bodies.
Indonesia, Thailand and India are three of Australia’s e-waste dumping grounds. Australia presently lacks the $200- to $300-million facilities required to recycle batteries, and further reduce plastics and metals. However Dave West, technical consultant with waste-avoidance group, Boomerang Alliance said the government will do as “much reprocessing as possible” in Australia.
E-waste is the fastest growing waste product globally, according to Greenpeace, a problem exacerbated not only by the inclusion of toxic materials, but the low value of recycled products like steel which falls short of covering recycling costs.
In November the Federal Government said computers and televisions will be the first products regulated as part of a national recycling scheme endorsed by state and federal environment ministers. At the time Federal environment minister, Peter Garrett, said in a statement that the new "industry-run national collection and recycling scheme" will be up and running in or before 2011.
Earlier that month, industry groups signed a charter presented at the Environmental Protection and Heritage Council meeting to push a national e-waste recycling scheme. As part of the project, householders will be "able to drop off used computers and TVs for recycling free of charge", Garret said in the statement.
The issue of curb-side collection, however, is still yet to be resolved and some observers have noted 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.