Reviewing the PSA

Waste Management Review explores the Product Stewardship Act review and industry expectations for the final report. 

Since the Federal Government Product Stewardship Act (PSA) was introduced in 2011, the dynamics of the waste and recycling sector have changed dramatically locally and overseas.

Waste management and resource recovery businesses have been forced to adapt and so has legislation and state and territory policy.

Product stewardship is a waste management strategy designed to ensure shared responsibility for the health and environmental impacts of a product through all stages of its lifecycle.

The PSA outlines three levels of regulation: mandatory, co-regulatory – joint industry and government delivery and voluntary.

There are currently no mandatory schemes under the PSA and just one co-regulatory scheme, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).

When the act commenced, two voluntary schemes were accredited, MobileMuster and Flurocycle. MobileMuster has recently renewed its accreditation for a further five years.

Outside of the act there are a number of industry-run national product stewardship schemes with Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approval including Paintback, Tyre Stewardship Australia and DrumMUSTER.

The act was required to be reviewed by the Department of the Environment and Energy five years after commencement and in 2017 that time came. Waste Management Review talks to industry stakeholders about gaps in the present scheme and the potential for improvement.

THE REVIEW

Following submissions from interested parties, the Department of Environment and Energy’s official consultation paper, released in March 2018, outlined five areas of reference.

First, the review would attempt to assess the extent to which the PSA’s objectives were being met and whether they remained relevant. Second, it would address the effectiveness of voluntary scheme accreditation and the minister’s annual product list, followed by an evaluation of the operation and scope of the NTCRS.

Additionally, the paper highlights an assessment of how the PSA interacts with other federal, state and territory policies and how international and domestic experiences of product stewardship could inform more effective legislation.

“If the review finds legislative changes are warranted, work to implement the changes, including refinement of options, regulatory impact analysis and development of regulatory amendments would be undertaken in 2018-19, subject to the minister’s agreement,” the paper reads.

According to National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read, problems stem not from the legislation, but from a lack of federal and departmental leadership.

“The lack of leadership in implementing the act has resulted in five, and soon to be seven, different container deposit schemes rather than a single national policy – plus inconsistent state bans on plastic shopping bags,” Rose says.

“The failure to address these two product groups at a national level under the PSA has increased implementation and compliance costs for all involved governments, producers, retailers and service providers.”

Additionally, Rose says government has provided little encouragement to companies seeking accreditation or promotion of existing schemes.

“The continued belief by the previous Federal Government that schemes should be voluntary reflects a lack of commitment or understanding of what is required to deliver an effective product stewardship scheme,” Rose says.

“Very few industries can implement these schemes without some basic regulation to ensure a level playing field for these companies.”

Rose says following the review, the NWRIC would like to see amendments to voluntary clauses, to enable a clearer pathway to accreditation. She adds the NWRIC would also like to see more government support and promotion for participating organisations. Rose hopes the Federal Government’s $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund will be adequately resourced to put appropriate regulatory frameworks in place.

TELEVISION AND COMPUTERS

The NTCRS was established alongside the PSA in 2011, with the aim of granting households and small businesses access to free industry-funded collection and recycling services.

According to Rose, over 94 per cent of importers contribute to the program, which covers more than 140 companies. She adds the collection rate for televisions and computers has jumped from 18 per cent in 2011 to over 62 per cent in 2018 as a result of the scheme.

“The companies involved in the program are investing an estimated $25 million a year to provide this service,” Rose says.

“On average, around 35 million products within the scope of the scheme are imported each year. That translates to an estimated average cost of $0.70 per unit imported.”

In 2017, the government engaged the Australian Continuous Improvement Group to undertake an evaluation of the NTCRS. It was designed to inform the official statutory review, and at the time of print, is the only published outcome.

The evaluation deemed the scheme largely efficient, but raised concerns over industry pricing and scaling factors.

“NTCRS was designed to allow multiple co-regulatory arrangements, so liable parties and recyclers are able to shop around for the best commercial deal,” the evaluation reads.

“In the opinion of stakeholders, prices have dropped, at least partially, as a result – raising concerns that services and standards are being compromised, particularly when it comes to downstream services.”

Ewaste Watch director and co-founder John Gertsakis says the NTCRS, which has recycled approximately 230,000 tonnes of electronic waste since it began, is one of the more successful elements of the PSA.

John says while the scheme is successful, there is still significant scope for improvement in the areas of community awareness and education, improved access in regional areas, and better collaboration between the co-regulatory arrangements.

According to John, several stakeholders have asked for the NTCRS to be expanded to include batteries and a range of additional electronic products.

“The community is absolutely ready for effective regulation where there are no industry funded schemes,” he says.

“The solution for batteries, in my opinion, is a regulated scheme under the PSA.”

Rose and the NWRIC agree and have called for a regulated scheme for batteries by 2020.

“The NWRIC would like to see the scope of the NTCRS broadened to include all products with a cord or battery, consistent with the recent Victorian e-waste ban and a separate regulation for batteries,” Rose says.

John suggests the NTCRS could be also be useful mechanism for sustainable solar photovoltaic panel (PV) management.

In 2016 PV systems were added to the PSA’s priority list, meaning they were being considered for scheme design. Sustainability Victoria is conducting research into the viability of a system of shared responsibility.

Sustainability Victoria’s Director of Resource Recovery Matt Genever says work on assessing stewardship options for PV systems is well underway.

“We’ve consulted broadly across industry and government and there is genuine support for a stewardship approach that will build a sustainable PV recycling market in Australia,” Matt says.

Matt says that the delays in reviewing the PSA by the Federal Government have caused some issues.

“This is an area of waste policy that absolutely needs strong leadership from the Commonwealth, as it can’t just work on a state-by-state basis. Product stewardship is one of the few areas that has national legislation and it’s clear that in its current state, the act isn’t delivering to its full potential.”

BATTERIES

Battery Stewardship Council (BSC) CEO Libby Chaplin highlights independent research that shows a voluntary scheme with light regulation to address free riders would be the most effective and viable option for batteries.

According to Libby, a proposed battery stewardship scheme is currently out for public consultation. She adds that in December 2018 all state, territory and federal ministers agreed all batteries must be included in the proposed scheme.

“We are keen to see a rapid improvement of this unacceptably low battery collection rate and have proposed a different approach to other schemes,” Libby says.

Libby says BSC’s proposal would run on an importer levy of four cents per equivalent battery (24 grams) and leverage existing collection channels.

“We are working on a rebate model, whereby members commit to a number of quality, environmental and safety requirements and then eligible for scheme funded rebates,” she says.

“This approach will now be the focus of consultation beyond BSC members, with an application for Australian Competition and Consumer Commission authorisation scheduled later this year.”

Libby says that establishing a battery stewardship scheme is essential, whether voluntary or regulated.

PRIORITY PRODUCTS

One of the PSA’s key devices is the annual product list, which outlines goods that might come up for scheme consideration the following year.

According to the PSA review consultation paper, publishing the list serves two purposes. First, it provides certainty to community and the business sector about what is being considered for coverage. Second, the act requires a 12-month notification for a class of products to be considered for accreditation or regulation.

Despite this, the list provides no promise of action and while the PSA requires an explanation of why a product has been added, it does not require an explanation for why a product has been removed.

Soft Landing Mattress Product Stewardship General Manager Janelle Wallace says the accreditation process is a good concept. However, she doesn’t believe it has been well marketed.

Janelle says the act doesn’t acknowledge the costs to local government of managing more complex and often hazardous waste streams, including mattresses, at landfill.

Soft Landing’s submission to the review made multiple recommendations, including a greater focus on durability during product design and wider consideration for the extended supply chain, from raw materials to consumers.

According to Janelle, Soft Landing would also like to see more consideration of bulky and inconvenient waste.

As a voluntary scheme, Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) has committed $4 million towards market development initiatives. It performs an accreditation and compliance program which focuses on the verification of the scheme across its 1700 participants. However TSA CEO Lina Goodman believes there needs to be more intervention from government.

“Whilst TSA has made significant in-roads within its verification, accreditation and market development programs, the heavy lifting associated with waste tyres remains in the hands of eight tyre importers,” Lina says.

She says the scheme can go only so far without government support or intervention, encouraging government to consider addressing the issue of free riders.

“The time is now for regulatory intervention that will address free riders. Some tyre importers are enjoying the benefits of the scheme without taking responsibility for the product they distribute to market.”

She says that this will have a positive impact and assist in switching the focus on local innovation that will drive greater consumption of material for domestically engineered products.

When speaking with Waste Management Review, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia CEO Gayle Sloan called the current PSA a “toothless tiger”.

“There are not enough schemes in operation and developing models for products such as batteries takes far too long,” Gayle says.

“The Federal Government needs to step up, lean in and drive change – there is a lot of opportunity to improve.”

Gayle says an issue with the current PSA is a lack of extended producer responsibility. She adds the system places problematic waste accountability squarely on the resource recovery industry.

“When a product enters the market, it needs to be recyclable, repairable or reusable,” Gayle says.

“Anything that doesn’t fall within those definitions via readily available structures needs its own source separation system, which needs to be funded by those who brought it to market.”

Additionally, Gayle says there needs to be a complete paradigm shift on voluntary schemes.

“The industry needs to be really honest with itself about what is working and what isn’t. Structural change will not occur by funding individual organisations.”

Equilibrium conducted an analysis of the cost of mandatory product stewardship schemes on consumers for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

The analysis made approximations based on standard product unit types and estimated that mandatory schemes would cost consumers up to $1.85 for e-waste, $16.50 for mattresses and $4.00 for tyres.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel says the new data shows consumers can recycle products and items affordably.

“In all cases, the cost of recycling these items is likely to be lower than two per cent of their consumer price. Therefore, cost concerns should not be a key barrier to action by our policy-makers,” he says.

Brooke Donnelly, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO, says the Product Stewardship Act review is an important and timely piece of work, and APCO supports the Federal Government’s efforts. Brooke says APCO believes all organisations must ultimately take responsibility for the products they create. However, there are a range of ways these systems can be delivered.

“To move forward, we need to take an agile approach that explores a range of alternative models that are best suited to fix specific material/product challenges and the external environment in which they operate,” Brooke says.

“We must look beyond the populist rhetoric and really test the value and impact various approaches can provide in a systemic and considered way. Fundamental to effective product stewardship is to ensure equality, accountability and transparency across the various approaches.”

THE MINISTER’S PERSPECTIVE

Drawing on his experience as President of the National Retail Association, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans says industry is best placed to understand the complexities of product stewardship.

When asked by Waste Management Review whether government was in a position to reveal whether it was looking into developing more mandatory schemes, Trevor said not yet.

“There is always a debate around the nature of the scheme, in terms of whether they are industry-led, voluntary or mandatory. It is very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach,” Trevor says.

“Mandatory schemes are one option, but they are not the only policy tool that government has in its arsenal.”

Trevor says the final report with recommendations is expected to be presented to the meeting of environment ministers towards the end of the year.

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Ecocycle unveils new branding

Ecocycle, formerly CMA Ecocycle, has updated its branding to highlight different business units, which will include Ecobatt and Ecoe-waste.

Ecocycle specialises in recycling batteries, lighting and e-waste, as well as mercury-containing waste from the dental, medical, mining, gas, and petro-chemical industries.

Ecocycle Business Development Manager Daryl Moyle said the revamp comes as the company continues to invest in modern equipment and technology.

“There are so many different products that can be recycled in the sector today, however we focus on specific products and niche markets rather than being a general waste company,” Mr Moyle said.

“The idea is to help customers distinguish our different services, so having a specific brand like Ecobatt will help customers identify us as a battery recycler.”

Mr Moyle said Ecocycle were investing in a battery recycling plant that will be the first of its kind in Australia.

“It will bring new solutions to the world of recycling in a big way,” Mr Moyle said.

“The company is also investing in new downstream sorting machinery for e-waste that will transform sorting processes, as well as safety equipment specifically designed for dealing with lithium ion batteries.”

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LG Chem partners with Envirostream

LG Chem, a South Korean lithium battery manufacturer, has partnered with Envirostream to develop safe and innovative recycling solutions and reduce battery waste.

LG Chem Australia General Manger Jamie Allen said Envirostream would be LG Chem’s exclusive battery recycling partner in Australia.

“According to research conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, only 2 per cent of Australia’s annual 3300 tons of lithium-ion battery waste is recycled, with waste predicted to grow by at least 300 per cent each year by 2036,” Mr Allen said.

“This valuable partnership aims to develop safe and innovative management solutions to increase Australia’s low recovery rates concerning batteries, which is an increasing threat to the Australian environment.”

Mr Allen said LG Chem and Envirostream’s partnership is expected to elevate battery recycling systems in the country.

“LG Chem batteries were originally sent overseas for recycling or left in landfills,” Mr Allen said.

“However, with Envirostream’s ISO 14001 accredited modular, 95 per cent of the resources from end-of-life batteries can be safely recovered before being sent to metal and battery manufacturers to be converted into raw materials for new battery production.”

Mr Allen said the initiative is the first step towards achieving LG Chem’s environmental mission and bringing a truly circular economy to its Australian operations.

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Europe reaches 44 per cent battery recycling collection rate

Around 44 per cent of batteries sold in Europe were collected for recycling, with Belgium reaching 70.7 per cent, according to new data from the European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat.

In total, the data found around 214,000 tonnes of portable batteries and accumulators were put on the market in 2016, with around 93,000 tonnes collected for recycling, meaning more than twice the amount of batteries that had been put on the market than were collected.

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Luxembourg reached 63.4 per cent collection rate, with Hungary and Lithuania reaching around 53 per cent. Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom achieved collection rates of around 45 per cent.

The EU target for collection rates of portable batteries was set at 45 per cent in 2016, meaning 13 EU member states did not reach the target.

Australia has a comparatively low recycling rate of batteries, with the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative finding only three per cent of batteries are recycled and 70 per cent are sent to landfill.

To improve Australia’s battery recycling rates, the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called for a regulated product stewardship program for batteries by 2020.

The NWRIC said such a low recycling rate means regulator intervention is the only option.

“With a combination of sensible regulation, targeted investment and consumer education, almost all of Australia’s used batteries can be safely recycled. This would reduce the risk of fires at recycling facilities and minimise the contamination of compost,” the organisation said in a release.

NWRIC calls for regulatory battery product stewardship scheme

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called for a regulated product stewardship program for batteries by 2020.

It has called on the Federal Environment Minister to broaden the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) to include all types of handheld batteries up to five kilograms.

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Under the NTCRS, more than 1800 collection services are available to the public which could be used to include batteries, according to NWRIC.

Lithium ion batteries pose hazards in kerbside recycling bins, potentially leading to spontaneous combustion if pierced due to mechanical handling in waste collection trucks and recycling facilities.

Lithium, nickel, lead and cadmium are finite resource in waste batteries that can be highly recyclable if correctly separated.

According to the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative only three per cent of batteries are recycled, with 70 per cent being sent to landfill.

NWRIC said that such a low recycling rate means regulator intervention is the only option.

“With a combination of sensible regulation, targeted investment and consumer education, almost all of Australia’s used batteries can be safely recycled. This would reduce the risk of fires at recycling facilities and minimise the contamination of compost,” NWRIC said in a release.

VIC councils receive $16.5M e-waste infrastructure funding

The Victorian Government has awarded 76 councils a share of $16.5 million to improve the state’s e-waste infrastructure.

Funding will go towards upgrading more than 130 e-waste collection and storage sites and help local councils to safely store and collect increasing amounts of e-waste.

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The funding aims to assist councils prepare for the state’s ban on e-waste which will come into effect in July 2019.

The upgrades aim to ensure 98 per cent of Victorians in metropolitan areas are within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point and 98 per cent of regional Victorians are within a 30-minute drive from a disposal point.

Councils will receive discarded electronics which will then be stripped of components for reprocessing or sold on the second-hand goods market.

Applications will also open in November for a share of $790,000 to deliver local education campaigns, with councils able to apply for up to $10,000 in funding.

E-waste is defined as anything with a plug or a battery that has reached the end of its useful life, including phones, computers, white goods, televisions and air conditioners.

The amount of e-waste generated in Victoria is projected to increase from 109,000 tonnes in 2015 to 256,000 tonnes in 2035.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the funding will ensure the state has one of the best e-waste collection infrastructure networks in Australia.

“We’re delivering on our promise to maximise recycling and minimise the damage e-waste has on our environment,” she said.

Recycling company wins Governor of Victoria export award

Lithium battery processing company Envirostream Australia has won the Regional Exporter Award in the 2018 Governor of Victoria Export Awards (GOVEA).

The awards are open to a range of industry sectors, including the waste and recycling industry and showcase some of the state’s most successful and innovative exporters.

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The company recovers 95 per cent of the materials contained in energy storage battery and sells the steel, copper and aluminium into national markets to be manufactured into new projects.

It began operating recycling facility in the Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield which is able to recover 40 tonnes of batteries per month on each processing line.

Envirostream has partnered with Planet Ark and other stakeholders to develop a battery collection and recycling program that uses battery recycling  and high material recovery.

“We believe this model will challenge the status quo in the recycling industry by adding value in Australia before exporting. This model creates jobs, decreases the cost to recycle and increases the recycling rate of batteries,” Envirostream Australia Director Andrew Mackenzie said.

The GOVEA are open to all Victorian exporters, regardless of size or total export sales.

Winners of the awards are automatically placed as finalists in the national Australian Export Awards.

The Winners:

  • Exporter of the Year – Leica Biosystems
  • Export Award for Innovation Excellence – Sealite
  • Emerging Exporter Award – FitMyCar
  • Victorian Women in International Business Award – Dr Ewa Douroux, Business Services Manager from Leica Biosystems
  • Agribusiness Award – Hussey and Company
  • Business Services Award – OMC International
  • Creative Industries Award – FanHubMedia
  • eCommerce Award – DPP Pharmaceuticals
  • Education and Training Award – IDP Education
  • Environmental Solutions Award – GeoFabrics Australasia
  • Digital Technologies Award – Catapult
  • Health and Biotechnology Award – Leica Biosystems
  • Manufacturing Award – Bosch Australia
  • Minerals, Energy, and Related Services Award – Business For Millennium Development
  • Regional Exporter Award – Envirostream Australia
  • Small Business Award – Cornerstone Solutions

Pictured Left to Right: Victorian Trade Minister Philip Dalidakis, Envirostream National Development Manager John Polhill, Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau. 

Mobile Muster calls on Australians to recycle phones in storage

MobileMuster

Mobile Muster is calling on Australians to recycle their old mobile phone after the program was showcased on the ABC’s War on Waste.

The national government accredited mobile phone recycling program is aiming to encourage Australians to take their phones out of storage and recycle them. The program is funded by all of the major handset manufacturers and network carriers to provide the free recycling system.

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Mobile Muster says there are currently more mobile phones in storage than the number of people in the country and estimates that by 2028, that number will reach almost 30 million.

Research shows that three out of four Australians are aware that they can recycle their phones, with Mobile Muster aiming to educate people on how they can recycle responsibly through its program.

Consumer awareness campaigns run by Mobile Muster highlight the environmental and social importance of recycling phones.

It also works closely with councils, workplaces, retailers and schools to raise awareness of mobile phone recycling, while also partnering with charities to give mobile users an added incentive to recycle their phones while doing good for communities.

Image Credit: Mobile Muster

Mobile Muster has established more than 35000 drop off points across Australia and have an agreement with AusPost where phones can be posted for free to be recycled.

Almost $45 million has been invested to develop a solid collection network and awareness campaigns over the last 20 years.

The program recycles 99 per cent of the material from phones and accessories, including glass, plastics and metals, reducing the need for virgin materials.

Mobile Muster Manager Spyro Kalos said most Australians know that we shouldn’t throw their phones in the bin, but many people hang on to them just in case they’re needed which often leads to them being forgotten in a draw.

“We know that recycling can be confusing sometimes, so we cut through that by providing a free and simple way for people to easily recycle their mobile phones. To date, we’ve recycled over 1,300 tonnes of mobile phones and accessories, including 13 million handsets and batteries. But there is always more to do,” he said.

“With millions of phones lying dormant at home, the e-waste problem is getting bigger and we all need to be talking about it more. Mobile phones can and should be recycled when they reach the end of their lives. We can all do our part to fight the war on waste, and it starts at home. That’s why we’re calling all Australians to find their old phones and recycle them the right way – today,” said Mr Kalos.

Featured Image Credit: Mobile Muster

Brisbane battery recycling boost from Lithium Australia

Lithium Australia has announced it will begin manufacturing and recycling advanced battery materials at its research and development lab, VSPC, in Brisbane.

The company aims to close the loop in the energy-metals cycle and is seeking to establish a vertically integrated lithium processing business.

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It aims to improve the lithium-ion battery supply chain with the company’s SiLeach lithium extraction process, superior cathode production, and enhanced recycling techniques for battery materials.

VSPC’s pilot production facilities have been fully re-commissioned, allowing the company to assemble and test lithium-ion coin and pouch cells.

Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin said the company intended to turn VSPC into a global facility for manufacturing advanced cathode materials as well as for battery recycling.

“VSPC gives Lithium Australia the opportunity to manufacture the world’s most advanced cathode materials – at the high-margin end of the battery metals market. Importantly, VSPC will also allow us to capitalise on waste batteries as a feed source,” he said.

“We anticipate immense pressure on the supply of energy metals such as lithium and cobalt in the near future. Battery recycling not only supports sustainability but may also, ultimately, prove the cheapest source of those energy metals materials in years to come.

“The ability to produce cathode powders from these materials, while also controlling particle size, is clearly advantageous. It is an integral part of our sustainable and ethical supply policy,” Mr Griffin said.

Lighting Council Australia relaunch product stewardship scheme

Lighting Council Australia (LCA) is relaunching the industry-led battery recycling program, Exitcycle, with support from the Queensland Government to improve the recycling rates of emergency and exit lights.

The voluntary product stewardship initiative developed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and LCA was launched in 2015 as a 12-month pilot project to provide guidance on issues impacting recycling batteries from metropolitan, regional and remote areas.

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Commercial users commit to recycling at least 95 per cent of their end of life emergency and exit lighting batteries as part of the program, while facilitators commit to promoting the scheme to users of these batteries.

LCA National Marketing and Environment Manager Roman Gowor said the program brings industry, government, and community together to improve environmental outcomes, noting that there are approximately 30 million emergency and exit lights across the country.

“The majority of the green-emergency lights we see across all buildings are powered by a combination of older battery technologies, which often use cadmium, nickel metal hydride or sealed lead acid,” Mr Gowor said.

“In the coming years, newer generation batteries will use more sustainable components, however multiple sectors—government, industry and end users— must work together to find the best way of increasing recycling rates.”

The program will be launched at the Queensland Parliament House in Brisbane, with attendees including recyclers, government officials and the lighting industry.

“The Exitcycle approach is successful because it is very well suited at addressing the specific waste issue,” Mr Gowor said.

“Unlike a great proportion of batteries used across the economy, emergency and exit lights are not typically used in households and, by law, can only be serviced by electrical contractors. The Exitcycle program is more targeted than other programs and focuses on electricians and facility and building managers,” he said.

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