Call for stronger e-waste regulations

e-waste regulations

ReSource Founder Troy Rowe calls for stronger e-waste recycling regulations to minimise the harm of temperature exchange devices.

Electronic rubbish is piling up around the world at a rate of 40 million devices per year, according to Clean Up Australia.

One of the fastest growing waste streams globally, it’s more likely to pollute the environment than biodegrade if sent to landfill, with toxic chemicals seeping into soil, water and air if mishandled.

Despite increased awareness of the dangers and a focus on recycling, only 54 per cent of e-waste is collected in Australia. Recent figures from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment reveal that of the e-waste collected, 46 per cent ends up in landfill, 43 per cent goes to low efficiency recycling such as scrap metal, and only 11 per cent is handled by dedicated e-waste processes.

It’s an “acceptable norm” that Troy Rowe, Founder of e-waste recycling company ReSource, says is unacceptable.

He says the incorrect disposal of some e-waste, particularly temperature exchange devices (TEDs) such as fridges, freezers and air-conditioners, is releasing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere.

While there are regulations around the release of VOCs, Troy says anyone from small scrap metal operators to huge shredding plants around Australia, can process TEDs. He’s calling on Australia to follow overseas standards and minimise the risk of releasing VOCs by restricting recycling of these devices to certified recycling facilities with the proper environmental controls.

“It’s a problem across Australia that we allow these devices to be managed in a very unmonitored way,” Troy says. “This is one of the areas of recycling where Australia is years behind.”

VOCs are a large group of chemicals known to be responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Troy says that in Europe, governments are taking it upon themselves to invest millions into purpose-built TED processing facilities because they realise the damage VOCs can cause to the atmosphere.

He says part of the problem in Australia is that TEDs can get ‘lost’ in traditional shredding processors.

e-waste regulations
Troy Rowe, ReSource Founder, wants tighter controls for recycling temperature exchange devices.

“If you mix one fridge in a pile of thousands of tonnes of steel products it gets lost in the pile,” he says.

“If you put emissions testing equipment on the dust extraction system it will look like VOC levels aren’t high because they’re spread across thousands of tonnes. The reality is, it’s still releasing the same amount of gases.”

Troy says it’s common practice to degas TEDs before shredding. However, there is always residual VOCs in the tanks and foam insulation from fridges and freezers.

In Europe, after degassing, TEDs are put through a specialised shredder plant in an oxygen-free environment where any residual gas is extracted out of the chamber and into specialised filtration systems.

Activated carbon filtering is a similar concept but uses a carbon filter during the shredding stage. It’s this process that Troy is implementing at a purpose-built e-waste recycling facility in Derrimut, Victoria.

Spread across 15,000-square-metres, the facility is set to fill a critical role in Australia’s recycling landscape treating e-waste as its own beast. It will have multiple stages with various technologies to liberate and then separate different materials, including those with low recovery rates.

Troy has worked with specialist dust collection and emissions control company Nederman to include an Australian-first, dual-stage activated carbon filtering system in the processing plant. 

“It will contain at least 95 per cent of VOCs as a minimum,” Troy says. “We’re trying to take some steps, as opposed to blowing VOCs out to the atmosphere. We are trying to be proactive in the way we manage TEDs that come onto our site. It’s come at great cost and no benefit to us other than feeling good that we’re doing the right thing.”

Troy wants Australian regulators to start enforcing the monitoring of VOC emissions at scrap metal sites and introduce laws that mean TEDs go to facilities that have appropriate protections for the emission of VOCs when recycled.

At the very least, he thinks it should be law that TEDs are degassed before any form of processing, at best, there should be appropriate fundings to help companies put in place emissions controls to stop VOCs going into the atmosphere.

“The second biggest e-waste volume, by tonnage, in Australia today is TEDs, but it doesn’t appear important enough to the government to take action,” Troy says.

“It’s not good enough to say, ‘regulations around VOC emissions are in place’, or ‘the cost benefit analysis doesn’t stack up’. These emissions are extremely harmful so they need to be monitored and real action taken to minimise the risk they pose.

“The environmental costs in relation to TEDs in particular is a concern of mine when you see how serious the rest of the world is taking the risks VOCs present.” 

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