The Victorian Government has announced it will ban e-waste to landfill on 1 July, 2019. William Arnott investigates how the ban will affect the state and what it means for the industry and local government.
As technology advances, so too does our hunger to upgrade. New phones, computers, televisions and all manner of gadgets and gizmos are released every year.
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in Australia, growing three times faster than general municipal waste, according to the 2017 Managing e-waste in Victoria Policy Impact Assessment. It’s estimated that television and computer waste alone will grow by more than 60 per cent – 85,000 tonnes – over the decade to 2024.
When sent to landfill, e-waste can be dangerous to the environment and human health due to the chemicals and materials inside. To pave the way for increased recovery of these products, the Victorian Government announced a ban on e-waste to landfill.
The ban aims to increase the amount of resources recovered and support jobs in the recycling industry, while keeping volatile chemicals out of landfill.
The state government categorises e-waste as any device with a power cord or battery that is no longer wanted or useful, although this definition may change at a later date. This definition includes more than just phones and televisions, but also products like microwaves, toasters, lawn mowers or lighting equipment.
In order to support the ban, the Victorian Government announced a $16.5 million investment into the sector to improve the infrastructure necessary for the ban.
Sustainability Victoria is rolling out the funding, spending $15 million of the package on supporting the upgrade of more than 130 collection and storage sites across Victoria, with the remaining $1.5 million going towards an awareness and education campaign.
THE LIFE CYCLE OF E-WASTE
The Victorian Policy Impact Assessment estimates 109,000 tonnes of e-waste was generated in Victoria in 2015, with the assessment citing studies in the UK suggesting around 75 per cent of e-waste is generated by households.
The market value for the recycled components, the cost of reprocessing, fluctuating commodity prices and the regulatory framework that affect e-waste streams are hurdles for re-processors to overcome while the landfilling of e-waste is still legal.
To encourage higher rates of recycling of e-waste, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) was introduced in 2011. This mandatory product stewardship scheme requires manufacturers or importers of television and computer products over a certain threshold to pay for a proportion of the recycling.
The funding comes from some of the largest IT companies in the world, including Dell, Apple and Toshiba and goes towards schemes like TechCollect – a free recycling service part of Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform.
Warren Overton, Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform Limited Chief Executive Officer, says the Victorian Government’s broader definition of e-waste will require the infrastructure to account for the wider scope.
“TechCollect currently provides collection for products under the NTCRS for free. However, it would be possible to expand our collections to cover the updated definition of e-waste,” he says.
“We would be able to collect e-waste and send it to our recyclers who would separate it out and be able to charge different amounts for quantities of products. After the material has been determined, anything that would fall under our program would be covered, though councils and businesses would need to pay for any residual collected.”
Warren says that moving to a broader definition of e-waste when compared with what is covered in the NTCRS would help limit confusion from the public about what exactly can be recycled.
“This will ultimately lead to a better outcome and keeps recycling e-waste simple. By keeping the separation at the recycler, it means the waste industry can piggyback on the program’s already established logistics,” Warren says.
“The infrastructure is there, but it needs to be improved on and consumers need to be made aware how important it is to recycle their old electronics. The ban will certainly drive more e-waste recycling and it will be important to make sure it integrates with, and takes advantage of, existing programs.”
The banning of e-waste also brings the issue of batteries to the forefront.
Daryl Moyle from mercury recovery and recycling company CMA Ecocycle warns of the dangerous chemicals within batteries that can seep into landfills from e-waste.
“Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain, liver and kidneys and cause development disorders in children.
“Once buried, inorganic mercury is converted by bacteria into a more toxic form known as organic or methylated mercury,” he says.
“The resultant leachate can seep slowly out of the landfill into the soil and groundwater and can then bioconcentrate up the food chain.”
Daryl also says there is a significant fire and explosion risk for e-waste once it is sent to landfill.
“There have been many cases of fires in landfills across the world directly attributed to batteries. The key is in the safe collection, sorting, storage and processing by professional recyclers,” he says.
The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) was developed to ensure batteries are kept out of landfills and advocate for the creation of a voluntary product stewardship scheme.
Libby Chaplin, ABRI CEO, says the timing of the ban is excellent given the exponential increase in generation of waste batteries across Australia.
“It is very pleasing to see batteries given prominence in the Victorian e-waste landfill ban,” Libby says.
“Given the toxicity of some materials contained in batteries, the fire risk associated with them and the valuable resources they contain, there is a clear imperative to divert them from landfill to a safe and responsible recycling scheme.”
Libby says banning batteries from landfill is one essential part of the solution and has called for a national battery stewardship scheme that sees industry and government working together.
“Such a scheme would see a national network of battery drop-off points, collection of waste batteries and support for expansion of local recycling operations,” she says.
“To enable rapid expansion of services, the key will be to leverage existing infrastructure and build on collection services offered in related areas such as for the NTCRS or used lead acid battery collections.
“This scheme is needed to ensure emerging state-based approaches, such as the Victorian landfill ban, are viable and reduce the burden on local councils that remain responsible for managing environmental impacts and fires of the inappropriate disposal of batteries to landfill.”
GETTING READY FOR THE BAN
Mark Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Waste Management Association, says one of the challenges the global waste management industry faces is the exponential growth of e-waste.
“It would be logical for any switched on government planning for the future to look to examples like Japan who have systems in place to extract materials and put them back into the system,” he says.
Mark says while the plans are still being finalised, it is likely that the infrastructure that will need to be upgraded will be the state’s transfer station network.
“One of the requirements of the e-waste ban is ensuring the infrastructure is within a close proximity to the community,” he explains.
“The challenge then becomes getting the public to start engaging in practices they’re not already doing.”
Mark says education is vital to ensuring the public is ready for the ban.
He points to research performed by BehaviourWorks Australia for the state government that shows many people aren’t aware of what e-waste is.
“The term e-waste has the potential to create a large disconnect across the community as there is a whole spectrum of understanding the problem. While the industry is switched on and aware of the problems, there are still some people that think e-waste is the contents of their junk email folder,” he says.
“Sustainability Victoria helps with comprehensive behaviour change and market testing. I would encourage local councils and businesses to adopt the statewide message to limit mixed messaging and decrease confusion.”
“One of the advantages of pushing the ban back a year is the public campaign will have time to simmer and filter through.
“The $1.5 million support package for the awareness campaign allows Sustainability Victoria to put together material and can be rolled out at a local level.”
A Sustainability Victoria spokesperson in July said the funding is also being used to design the campaign through its website, video and collateral and to provide a range of communications to councils.
“The first part of the campaign will build this knowledge by focusing on what e-waste is and why we need to manage it differently.
“The second part of the campaign in 2019 will be supported with statewide advertising and focus on where to take e-waste for recycling,” the spokesperson said.
“The campaign will also be available for councils to use locally and a range of campaign resources will be available based on input provided by councils during the campaign design consultation in 2017.”
WHAT IT MEANS FOR COUNCILS
Marks says that for most people, their first point of contact will be their local councils. He says that Sustainability Victoria will likely have a contingency plan in place for when people begin contacting their local government for more information.
“Because of the fragmented nature of waste management across local government, there will be a number of different approaches,” he says.
“One council’s operation could be different to the one next door. A number of options can be entertained, but each will have a price tag attached.”
“Some may go down the path of just ensuring that transfer stations are established within 20 minutes of urban centres, while others may also offer e-waste collection alongside hard waste collection.”
Mark says local councils and some industry operations have felt slightly out of the loop on what the ban will mean for day-to-day operations.
“My understanding is that a lack of information and a certain amount of ambiguity about how the ban will be rolled out has contributed to the state government’s decision to push the ban back to 2019.
“If councils decide to go above and beyond the infrastructure package, any cost associated with it would have to be picked up by someone, most likely through rates.”
Mary Lalios, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), the advocacy group for local government in Victoria, says councils have welcomed the goal of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and would like to see the principle of product stewardship underpin any e-waste landfill ban.
She explains that as landfill operators, councils face additional costs as a result of the e-waste ban, with no support from the state government currently being offered.
“Councils will need to update waste management plans, renegotiate and enter into new contracts, upgrade waste infrastructure, increase staffing at transfer station collection points and rework council waste information and education materials,” Mary explains.
“For councils without transfer stations, or with populations that cannot easily access transfer stations, they may need to establish and manage additional collection points at a cost to ratepayers.”
Mary says the MAV has requested the state government allocate funding from its Sustainability Fund to support and compensate councils for increased costs from the ban over the first 24 months.
“A network of convenient and accessible e-waste collection points will be essential to encourage community compliance with an e-waste to landfill ban,” Mary says.
“More collection points are needed than can reasonably be provided by councils. We have called on the state to work with retailers to establish collection points at outlets that sell electronic goods.”
“We believe an expansion of e-waste product stewardship programs is also vital to improve e-waste recycling rates.
“We want the state to strengthen its advocacy to the federal government to expand existing product stewardship schemes and establish new schemes so that the costs associated with recycling e-waste are borne by those producing, selling and purchasing the products,” she says.
The MAV has also called upon the state government to double the $1.5 million which had been allocated for the education campaign. Mary says the current amount is inadequate when most Victorians don’t know what e-waste is, let alone how to properly dispose of it.
“Given the volatility of the recycling market, we also remain concerned about the risks to councils as the collectors of e-waste if they are unable to pass on collected e-waste to reprocessors at a reasonable cost. Significant state investment in market development is essential.”
This article appeared in the August issue of Waste Management Review.
The Victorian Government announced in April that the collection site infrastructure upgrades would ensure 98 per cent of Victorians in a metropolitan area would be within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point, and that 98 per cent of Victorians in a regional area would be within a 30-minute drive of a disposal point.
Sustainability Victoria’s E-waste Infrastructure Grants package will fund fixed collection and storage infrastructure to primary and secondary sites identified in the Victorian e-waste Infrastructure Network Assessment Report.
Primary and secondary sites are the most significant sites in terms of populations services and the amount of e-wastes that need to be collected and sorted before processing.
Sites identified in the Victorian e-waste collection network can apply for funding of up to $100,000 in accordance with the funding criteria. Grant proposals close 3pm, 14 September 2018. For more information, click here.