It’s been conference season for our industry over the last few weeks. One sentiment was echoed from platform to platform.
Managing end-of-life products should be a shared responsibility between the consumers, councils and those who make or sell the products in the first place.
Whether it was at the Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference at the end of July, the AWRE seminars in August or the WasteQ regional conference in September, the assertion was that those producing or selling the consumables should be obliged to take some accountability for recycling those goods.
This need is amplified as so many items people buy now are not designed to be durable or to be used for a long time.
Electricals and mobile phones use technology that continually evolves, so they are not built to last. You can buy a kettle for $7.50 at Kmart – that’s less than the average takeaway sandwich costs. The “fast fashion” sector has grown by 10 per cent a year since 2010, as cash-strapped, particularly younger consumers seek affordable ways to keep up with trends on a budget.
The consequences have included more items simply being thrown away. Despite being made from materials that could be reused or recovered, many have often ended up in landfill.
At a panel session on e-waste at AWRE, Carmel Dollisson of the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform said funding for programs to recover resources from end-of-life products needs to be shared. She and her fellow panellists called for better leadership from the federal government.
The consumer was positioned squarely as having some duty in this space, with “pay as you throw” and programs to encourage re-use or repair being advocated.
However, the message from those at the frontline of handling this influx of end-of-life material is that they want producers and retailers to be mandated to participate in diverting their products from landfill.
Some companies are already committed to doing more in this space.
Reverse logistics companies are becoming more popular. The Victoria- based TIC Group is one such operator who is paid by national stores to collect electricals and other items that have been returned for selling on the secondary market or exporting for re- use. It brings them back to its warehouse for processing.
Some items are not faulty and may be simply missing a box – these often have their branding removed to be sold on.
Other items are collated and sent to South East Asia, where entrepreneurial businesses repair them or find a new use for them. For example leaf blowers become dryers, which are in demand at car washes. Fan heaters with a broken heating element are used for just cooling.
Fast fashion is starting to realise its sustainability responsibilities. H&M launched a €1 million ($1.56 million) competition in late August to seek solutions to the growing problem of waste and pollution in the fashion industry. The Global Change Award, funded by the H&M Conscious Foundation, aims to engage inventors, scientists and researchers to present practical ideas to close the loop on clothing waste.
However, the industry agrees that Australia is behind the curve on this issue.
Currently, there isn’t enough infrastructure here to process e-waste, for example, so it has become acceptable to export it. This sees valuable resources leaving the country every day.
The calls are growing for additional national product stewardship initiatives, which retailers and manufacturers would be mandated to participate in. Industry is calling for the federal government to put an onus on manufacturers to design products with repair, re-use and recovery in mind.
With a general election on the horizon and the problem of managing waste growing, the hope is for action on this matter – and soon.