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Responsible recycling of e-waste: it’s all about awareness

TechCollect hit its stride in 2015 with achievements in engagement and standards. This year will see a focus on increased visibility and a New Zealand roll-out.

It’s now over four years since TechCollect launched, following the Federal Government setting up the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) in late 2011.

Managed by co-regulatory arrangement (CA) Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP), TechCollect provides communities and businesses throughout Australia with
a free, simple and responsible way to dispose of and recycle their unwanted televisions, computers and peripheral computer accessories. It organises scheme collection services, permanent or temporary points where e-waste can be dropped off, and manages contracts with e-waste recyclers.

Four years after its creation, ANZRP CEO Carmel Dollisson is delighted with TechCollect’s work. “It has been a challenging and interesting ride,” reflects Carmel. She states that from the start TechCollect has been the largest CA and it has always lived up to responsible recycling. She emphasises its uniqueness as a not-for-profit, industry for industry arrangement.

“We’ve established some fantastic relationships with recyclers, logistics players and our collection network,” Carmel says. “For us, compliance isn’t just a tick in a box, it’s what we live by.”

The foundations TechCollect has been built on – of doing the right thing, and supporting recyclers and “liable parties” (manufacturers and importers) to do the same – has contributed to 
its progress since inception. Carmel says overseeing the legitimacy of the recyclers it uses is a role it takes seriously, highlighting that it is the only CA that has an independent, external, professional auditor for this.

Carmel says the first two years 
of TechCollect were about learning and understanding the market, and establishing strong foundations on which to build a strong, viable long- term scheme – which is ANZRP’s main focus.

In contrast, 2015 was a year of consolidation.

2015 in review: standards

The team spent time developing a mass balance calculator last year to get a clear view over what the recyclers recover, where it goes, and what happens to it next.

“Getting visibility over that is something the recycling industry is not very good at,” says Carmel. “We take a chain of custody approach and expect our recyclers to do the same.”

She says this focus on best practice, which was backed by its liable party members, helped in developing 
the interim industry standard, which formed the basis of the new Australian Standard AS5377. Carmel is particularly proud of her company’s part in that.

AS5377 is a new standard covering the collection, storage, transport and treatment of end-of-life electrical
and electronic equipment. It aims to commit businesses in this sector to best practice health and safety and environmental processes. From 1 July 2016, CAs will be obliged to contract only with recyclers that are certified to AS5377.

“Industries can self-regulate, but those standards are absolutely core to getting e-waste recycling right and encouraging those that can’t meet the standard to leave the industry,” Carmel states. “We were delighted that our lobbying, combined with that from other parties, paid off to get the standard mandated in a ministerial review last year.”

She commends the previous work of Zero Waste South Australia and EPA New South Wales’ recent efforts in reviewing legislation around the management of e-waste and licensing laws to ensure the waste stream is dealt with appropriately by genuine, lawful operators.

“We thoroughly support the works of EPAs around the country,” adds Carmel. “They have a huge role to play in this space, and to see them enforcing and regulating, that’s a real positive.”

Carmel says another achievement
in 2015 was the Federal Government’s commitment to obtaining accurate converted weights for recycled e-waste, especially as technology
often gets smaller and lighter. From 1 July 2015, product codes for data collection will be added
or removed to reflect changes in technology.

“They listened, and I think that’s a very positive thing for a regulator,” comments Carmel.

2015 in review: awareness

Carmel says 2015 was a year of refining the way the company operates, including raising awareness with industry, stakeholders and the public about its role and work.

A lean operation as a not-for-profit, TechCollect delivers its program with just six employees
and a stringent budget. So it looks to speaking opportunities and public relations to promote its campaigns and messages, and 2015 saw more activity in this area.

Carmel says presenting at 
industry events is very important;
she aims to speak at a minimum
of four conferences a year. She
 says TechCollect has become the “go-to” for expert insight into the NTCRS because it drives the thought leadership around what’s happening, its future, and what liable parties could be doing.

“Conferences are a valuable opportunity to speak to local government representatives, which keeps TechCollect front of mind and keeps attendees current on our work. It also offers a chance to identify new collection partners,” says Carmel.

Conferences also provide an opportunity for ANZRP to promote the issues around e-waste recycling and technology product stewardship, where Australia stands compared with the rest of the world, and to educate people about the issues.

In terms of public awareness and education, TechCollect launched the Young E-Waste Hero competition and ‘Waste Not, Want Not Day’ in 2015. These initiatives had the
same long-term objective: to educate the community about the scheme’s existence and more broadly about the inherent value of responsible recycling, and TechCollect’s role within that.

The Young E-Waste Hero competition ran in August with the chance to win a $1,000 cash prize. It encouraged children to demonstrate their understanding of how e-waste impacts the environment by submitting a creative entry about the issue, such as a drawing, short film or a poem.

“Kids are the best advocates of recycling in the country. They know a lot more about than their parents in some cases,” says National Marketing Manager Tim Fullerton. “So our view is education targeting children is enormously important because they’ll take those positive messages home.”

The program was underpinned with TechCollect-developed educational content, which primary school teachers could use to teach on the topic. The plan is to expand this educational component for secondary schools in 2016.

The first ‘Waste Not, Want Not
Day’ was held on 8 December 2015. This initiative was aimed at Australian businesses, encouraging staff to address their office clutter and recycle any unwanted technology that had been hoarded in cupboards or storage rooms.

People were encouraged to bring their e-waste into work over a period of time to be handed over for recycling. Therefore TechCollect expects to see a tangible upturn in volumes received and recycled later by the end of summer.

“We want this to drive an ongoing change in behaviour, so it isn’t about the day itself, but months and years ahead,” adds Tim. “This all fits in with the long-term sustainability of the scheme that TechCollect is working for, to go well into the future.”

It also attracted a great deal of national mainstream media coverage, vital to a not-for-profit. The media and community engagement with this campaign, according to Tim, is a positive sign that the industry is heading in the right direction. TechCollect will hold Waste Not, Want Not Day again this year, and would like to see become a prominent event in the national calendar.

“It fits in with our ethos of not simply getting messaging out through local councils or collection partners, but going direct to the source,”
adds Tim.

Impressively, given the short gestation of the program, 2015 saw TechCollect pass the 60,000-tonne mark for the amount of e-waste it has recycled since the scheme’s inception.

“TechCollect is one of five CAs
set up under the NTCRS. So if you put together all the e-waste that’s been collected and all of it funded by industry, that’s a remarkable amount of e-waste that’s been diverted from landfill,” adds Carmel.

2016: Consolidation and New Zealand

For 2016, Carmel says ANZRP has two priorities: maintaining its position as the leading CA for the NTCRS
 and introducing TechCollect to New Zealand.

The ANZRP Board has spent a lot of effort refining its operations, looking at how it can improve its service to members and the community and retaining its leadership position. They will also prepare for the next review of the NTCRS, which will happen after September, most likely in 2017. Carmel says it will continue to support responsible recycling by maintaining its focus on transparency and standards.

“In our audits, the things we
find most failure around are very simple – health and safety, and risk assessments,” she explains. “We will keep the focus on keeping the industry doing the right thing and setting our practice as the benchmark.”

New Zealand is also high on the agenda. Although having initially
been ahead of Australia in terms of regulations, Carmel says economic conditions prevented the roll-out of TechCollect there four years ago. The manufacturers have also been standing firm on not participating, and funding, such a scheme unless it’s fully regulated.

“We’re keen to pursue an opportunity in NZ and we’ll be looking to undertake a trial in the first half of 2016. There’s a lot of pressure from local government and community there to see products recycled.”

TechCollect is also working on several initiatives to help people recycle their e-waste after receiving more queries from businesses and the community.

“In our experience, the desire to do the right thing is there, and people will do the right thing if it is made easy for them,” Carmel says.

As a result, TechCollect is looking at the potential with high-rise buildings, where many people live and work, but often don’t have cars. It is also considering a “milk-run” type initiative, which would run through CBDs and pick up from small and large businesses.

Further into the future, Carmel’s aspirations include having more scope in the type of products the e-waste recycling scheme can collect, more towards Europe’s electrical and electronic equipment waste
(WEEE) range.

“We’d welcome a move to full WEEE, as it would facilitate a better collection network. And because you’re collecting more, everything is more efficient, and becomes a better program,” states Carmel.

“In three to five years’ time, I hope Australia has a vibrant recycling industry,” she concludes. “It should
 be safe, and achieving good recycling outcomes, with the key manufacturers doing the right thing, making it core to what they do.”

More information on TechCollect and ANZRP’s latest annual report is available on the website.

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