With Victoria’s e-waste ban commencing 1 July, Waste Management Review explores what supporting infrastructure has been put in place and some of the uncertainties surrounding compliance.
The fact that e-waste is one of the fasting growing waste stream in Australia should come as a surprise to no one.
With each new technology release, scores of people around the nation line up for hours, wanting to be first to own the latest device.
While the ever-accelerating march of technology might not be a problem on its own, it has generated a substantial mass of old and unwanted electronics.
The question of what to do with these cast-offs is a significant one and the Victorian Government has proposed an answer.
Taking cues from South Australia’s successful 2013 ban, the Victorian Government has responded by banning e-waste from landfill from 1 July, 2019.
The Victorian Government defines e-waste as products that require electricity or batteries to operate, including, but not limited to, televisions, computers, mobile phones, kitchen appliances, white goods and batteries.
While the ban might successfully reduce the amount of electronics sent to landfill, and therefore minimise the risk of chemical leaks, how the waste management and recycling industry will deal with the inevitable influx of e-waste is still in question.
Last year, the Victorian Government invested $16.5 million into upgrading e-waste collection and storage facilities and educating the public, tasking Sustainability Victoria (SV) with the rollout.
SV Resource Recovery Director Matt Genever says after consulting extensively with industry, it was decided the focus of that funding would be resource recovery centres.
“The government didn’t expect councils to shoulder the burden of upgrades, so we’ve funded the majority of the network expansion,” Matt says.
“Together, we upgraded Victoria’s e-waste collection network and increased community access to drop-off points significantly. This involved the expansion of existing facilities, as well as establishing new ones.”
UPGRADING THE INFRASTRUCTURE
When the funding was announced, a government statement said upgrades would aim to ensure 98 per cent of Victorians in metropolitan areas were within a 20 minutes drive of an e-waste disposal point and 98 per cent of regional Victorians within a 30 minute drive.
According to Matt, these aims have been achieved, with 1000 drop-off sites across the state now able to collect e-waste.
“The level of funding support from state government has been really significant, particularly when compared to other states,” Matt says.
To complement state funding, SV, through the Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund, invested an additional $1.1 million towards new e-waste recycling projects.
In partnership with the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform and the University of NSW, SV invested in a commercial e-waste microfactory.
Matt says with the capacity to process 500,000 kilograms of waste plastic per year, he hopes the facility, located in Somerton Victoria, will enable greater local processing of plastic generated from e-waste.
“A lot of existing projects will also help facilitate the ban, such as product stewardship schemes for batteries and computers, and the MobileMuster phone scheme,” Matt says.
According to Matt, the variability of e-waste material makes it difficult to discuss as one waste stream.
“The metal present in fridges, phones and batteries has a robust and already existing scrap metal resale market and the precious materials obviously have value,” Matt says.
“A lot of the material coming out of e-waste however is plastic and accessing markets for recovered plastic is currently challenging.”
To address this, SV have invested in multiple plastic recovery projects.
“The work we’re doing will add more than 80,000 tonnes per annum of new plastic recycling capacity to Victoria,” Matt says.
“For example, we are expanding the Polymer Processes facility in Braeside, allowing it to accept a wider range of plastic material from e-waste and increase processing speeds.”
MobileMuster Manager Spyro Kalos says his organisation is supportive of the ban, especially given existing product stewardship schemes are in place.
“Successful take-back programs require a solid collection network, along with the ability to transport product to processing facilities – both go hand in hand,” he says.
“MobileMuster is working closely with SV and council partners to ensure residents know how and where to recycle their unwanted mobiles.”
According to Spyro, MobileMuster will shortly launch a new campaign, Use it or Recycle it, which will aim to motivate people to think about how easy it is to recycle old mobile phones.
Announced as a Victorian Government election promise in 2014, the ban was initially scheduled to commence in 2018.
Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Executive Officer Mark Smith says issues impacting the Victorian waste sector, such as China’s National Sword policy and resulting stresses around reprocessing markets, caused the state government to delay implementation for a year.
However, he says through state funding and proactive responses from the private sector and local councils, the industry has stabilised.
“The waste industry is always ready to meet the challenges we face, but we need to be supported along the way and that support does not always mean cash handouts to the industry,” Mark says.
“Sometimes there’s a lack of recognition for the role of the private sector in managing these large-scale issues, which is sometimes demonstrated by the lack of consultation with and involvement of, the private sector in implementation.”
In preparation for the ban, VWMA, in collaboration with CMA Ecocycle, the Australian and New Zealand Recycling Platform and Barwon South West and Grampians Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Groups, held an industry briefing in Ballarat.
Mark says VWMA decided to hold the event in response to member feedback.
“Members were concerned about the lack of information they had in regard to the ban, so we felt it necessary to facilitate a discussion between our members and the government agencies working on infrastructure and compliance, such as the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the EPA,” Mark says.
“The event was extremely well attended, we actually had so much demand that we broadcast the sessions and panels to two regional centres in Wangaratta and Gippsland. This tells me people want more information and more conversations on the ban.”
Mark says it was clear from questions and answers that aspects of the ban, such as public messaging and compliance details, are still being worked out.
Ewaste Watch, a research-based think-tank focused on accelerating electronics sustainability, Director Rose Read says critical compliance and implementation questions are yet to be answered. She says while the state government has made efforts to increase the number of convenient drop-off locations and educate the community, she is unsure if communities and businesses are sufficiently aware of new collection points.
Rose says regulating bodies also need to explain to the community and businesses what controls are in place to ensure proper e-waste recycling? What will happen to data left on devices? Will councils be providing free collection services?
“If not, there is a real risk we may see an increase in illegal dumping, problematic stockpiling and general non-compliance with the ban which would be unfortunate,” Rose says.
Ewaste Watch’s second Director John Gertsakis believes the ban is only one part of the e-waste solution, and that Federal Government must expand the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include all electronic and electrical products not covered by an industry product stewardship scheme.
“Councils need the support of manufacturers, brands and retailers to ensure recycling is free, and that community-friendly options are provided for electronics reuse, repair and recycling,” John says.
The Managing e-waste in Victoria Policy Impact Statement sets out the compliance actions required.
The EPA will be responsible for enforcing the new e-waste waste management plan, in line with their wider risk-based Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
“EPA expects that while small volumes of e-waste are likely to filter through to landfill, every endeavour should be made to prevent large quantities of e-waste entering the landfill cell,” the statement reads.
“As with other requirements of the waste management plan, EPA will use administrative notices as first recourse against non-compliance, with the potential to take enforcement action for breach of notice if the duty holder fails to comply.”
It states landfill operators may need to implement waste acceptance measures to prevent e-waste to landfill in accordance with Victoria’s BPEM for landfills.
Matt says that the compliance requirements will depend on the type of operation and what e-waste material is being processed, collected and/or stored.
A site dealing with scrap metal may have different requirements to a site that handles high volumes of cathode ray tubes where the risks of releasing hazardous substances are higher.
He says that it should be noted that compliance with AS5377 is already a requirement for those operators participating in the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).
He says that site operators will need to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the Waste Management Policy and AS5377 and EPA Victoria will be working with industry over the coming months to identify further opportunities to support compliance.
Cr Coral Ross, the Municipal Association of Victoria President told Waste Management Review at the beginning of June that for the e-waste landfill ban to be successful there needs to be a comprehensive community education campaign, a network of easily accessible e-waste collection points and strong markets for the collected material.
“We are concerned that none of these pre-conditions exist,” she said.
“Community awareness of the ban remains low and the state has not funded enough collection sites, particularly in rural areas and municipalities without transfer stations.”
Coral said that of greatest concern is the lack of end markets for much of the material captured by the ban.
“Given the broad definition of e-waste being used, councils will be collecting products that have only a tiny e-waste component, with the rest of the product being plastic or some other non-recyclable material,” she said.
“As the collectors of e-waste, councils face significant risks and costs if they are unable to pass on collected e-waste to re-processors. And communities face further risks of stockpiling.
“The MAV has always argued that a better approach would be to expand the current e-waste product stewardship program that exists for televisions and computers. Retailers should also be required to provide collection points,” Coral said.
In terms of whether the community/councils will have to pay for e-waste disposal, Matt says this is a matter for individual councils and their e-waste recycling contractors.
“There are already strong markets for TVs and computers through the NTCRS and for those items that have high metal content, like fridges, freezers and microwaves,” he says.
He says the $16 million on improving infrastructure and processing should minimise any impact on local communities and ensure e-waste is disposed of properly.
Matt says the Victorian Government has ensured the majority of investment in new and upgraded e-waste infrastructure is being made in regional Victoria where it is most needed, with more than 100 of the 122 sites funded across regional and remote areas.
“In addition, the second round of the funding program which is currently being designed will target key regional and rural sites where communities need improved access.
“SV consulted extensively with all councils when planning the infrastructure investment program to make sure these communities were being adequately serviced.”
CMA Ecocycle, a mercury recovery and recycling company based in Victoria, is preparing for the ban through technological investment.
Business Development Manager Daryl Moyle says the company is constantly moving forward in the recycling space.
“We have already invested heavily in technologies that will address the anticipated volumes and types of e-waste streams that will come about as a result of the ban,” Daryl says.
“We have even gone as far as employing e-waste specific staff dedicated to sourcing e-waste from across the state.”
Daryl says the ban will likely lead to a volume of material previously unexperienced by the company.
“This will challenge our capabilities and lead to increased technology input and constraints, but we are aware of these challenges and strive to ‘make smart’ our operations and procedures,” he says.
Daryl says the ban will only be as successful as community up-take allows, highlighting EPA enforcement as key to positive realisation.
“We think the marketing strategy in place with Sustainability Victoria will bring about community and industry awareness, but this will take time.”