Reverse logistics ewaste: Ecycle Solutions

Ecycle Solutions is helping businesses reduce their waste to landfill rate through innovative ewaste collection, recycling and disposal services.

Millions of electronic devices such as televisions and computers are discarded in Australia every year, with ewaste now the fastest-growing waste stream in the country.

Established in 2011, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) provides Australian households and small businesses with access to free industry-funded collection and recycling services.

According to Chris Tangey of Ecycle Solutions, the NTCRS is properly designed and works well mechanically.

He adds that it has regulations that demand compliance and prescribe penalties for non-compliance.

“All stakeholders signed off with a positive assessment for the continuation and expansion of the scheme during the 2018 Statutory Review,” Tangey says.

More than 1800 collection services have been made available to the public since 2011, with over 290,000 tonnes ewaste collected and recycled.

The scheme is operated by four government-approved Co-Regulators on behalf of industry, including Ecycle Solutions.

Ecycle Solutions collects end-of-life ewaste via free drop-off and collection points at participating retail stores such as Harvey Norman, The Good Guys and Radio Rentals.

Since its launch in 2013, Ecycle Solutions’ ewaste service has grown significantly. The company now works with over 300 manufacturers and retailers, and in 2019, collected over 11,000 tonnes of ewaste.

According to Tangey, the NTCRS requires all importers of electronic goods into Australia to recycle 66 per cent of the mass they bring in.

Beginning at 30 per cent in 2011, Tangey say the recycling rate increases by two per cent each year. He adds that the rate is capped at 80 per cent due to a belief recycling beyond that level is challenging.

At the heart of the Ecycle Solutions’ system is parent company QLS Logistics, a national transport company that regularly visiting metropolitan, regional and country retail stores throughout Australia.

“As NTCRS partners, when QLS drivers deliver new white and brown goods to retail stores, they collect purpose-built ewaste bins full of end-of-life televisions and computers, which are then recycled,” Tangey says.

“This ultimately functions as a reverse logistics network, facilitating a sustainable closed loop system.”

Under the scheme, Co-Regulators such as Ecycle Solutions are required to provide reasonable access for the general public to recycle their ewaste, with approximately 300 collection points across Australia.

Tangey says in metro areas such as Melbourne and Sydney, reasonable access equates to one collection point per 250,000 people. He adds that in Melbourne, that equates to a minimum of 17 collection points.

“When a member of the public or a small business visits one of our participating retailers they can drop their goods off free-of-charge, and are not required to buy anything.

“We audit those sites each year to ensure they are providing a compliant, accessible and streamlined service.”

Once collected by Ecycle Solutions, the ewaste is sent to third party specialist ewaste recyclers where greater than 90 per cent become reusable materials.

Ecycle Solutions use 10 recyclers in total, with four located in NSW and Victoria respectively, and another three across Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia.

“We tend to aim at small-to-medium recyclers, which are often family run businesses. They are all accredited and audited to ensure they comply with all relevant regulations,” Tangey explains.

As the sole co-regulated product stewardship scheme, the NTCRS stands out within the wider product stewardship ecosystem. The scheme is effective, Tangey says, because of its extended producer responsibility focus.

“If a company is importing a future waste material into the country, they have to pay for that waste to be dealt with. That is why the scheme is so successful, as often times people need a regulatory push to transition to more sustainable practices,” he says.

As the industry continues to wait on the Federal Government’s Product Stewardship Act Review, Tangey says he would like to see the NTCRS expanded to include more products such as batteries and photovoltaic solar panels.

“We need to expand the scheme so that more waste is regulated, and resource recovery rates grow,” he says.

“The NTCRS is really starting to close the loop in Australia, with more commodities such as metals, plastics and motherboards recycled onshore.

“It’s a great example of resource recovery in action, one that would benefit from an expanded material focus.”

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Melting the polystyrene problem: Ecycle Solutions

Chris Tangey of Ecycle Solutions details a hot melt solution to the accelerating problem of expanded polystyrene.

While demand for expanded polystyrene (EPS) is growing rapidly, recycling rates are still relatively low. On average, Australia consumes 47,000 tonnes of EPS a year, with a recovery rate of 29 per cent, according to the 2018 National Waste Report.

According to Chris Tangey, Ecycle Solutions General Manager, businesses and councils across Australia need to begin taking responsibility and drive the push towards increased EPS recovery rates.

“The volume of EPS waste entering landfill is a grave concern for Australians, as it increases each year alongside the consumption of packaged goods,” he says.

“Now is the time for businesses and councils to invest in EPS recycling and use their social conscious to push Australia towards a circular economy.”

While EPS cannot be collected via standard kerbside systems, Chris adds that businesses and councils can efficiently recycle their EPS waste through Ecycle Solutions’ collection and recovery service.

As an inert material, EPS doesn’t rot or attract pests. Added to that is its strength and lightweight nature, making EPS a versatile and popular building product.

Applications include insulated panel systems for walls, roofs and floors, as well as facades for domestic and commercial buildings.

Additionally, as it’s lightweight, Chris says EPS is an economical packaging material.

“It offers excellent protection and insulation, making it ideal for the storage and transport of fragile and expensive items, especially electronic goods,” Chris says.

As construction and packaging consumption rates continue to rise country over, it’s safe to suggest the volume of EPS waste generation will rise right alongside them.

This, Chris suggests, is in spite of the government and public push to ban single-use plastics.

“EPS is a growing concern for many businesses, as the volume of EPS waste increases each year. Additionally, reducing EPS to landfill is now a priority concern for local councils and governments – as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation aims to reduce packaging waste from landfill by 2025,” Chris says.

As the General Manager of Ecycle Solutions, an innovative nationwide EPS and e-waste recycling provider, Chris says he is well placed to highlight the problems that arise when EPS enters landfill.

“Once in landfill, EPS takes more than 700 years to break down, which places significant strain on our already limited landfill space,” he says.

“EPS, which can be recycled and used to remanufacture new products, is taking up space that should be reserved for waste that can’t be recycled or has no other use. It’s a totally avoidable future cost.”

To help businesses sustainably manage their EPS waste, Ecycle Solutions run a reverse logistics pick-up program.

For just $25 dollars a bag, businesses can have their loose EPS picked up and sent to an Ecycle Solutions depot for recovery.

“It’s often said that EPS recycling is too challenging, but really the only difficulty is in the logistics. If you have to send trucks out for the sole purpose of collecting EPS, it becomes uneconomical.

“This is where we have the advantage,” Chris says.

As a wholly owned subsidiary of QLS Group, a transport and logistics operator, Ecycle Solutions has access to trucks driving around the country at all times.

Chris says this means Ecycle Solutions can avoid the added economic and environmental costs sometimes associated with collections.

When organisations engage Ecycle Solutions for EPS recycling they are provided with a two cubic metre bulk bag and frame.

“The bag stands up nice and rigid, so it’s easy for clients to just throw their loose EPS in as needed. When the bag is full, they let us know and a truck comes to pick it up. It’s a simple process,” Chris says.

“Once the material arrives at one of our depots in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, we run it though heat extruders that perform a hot melt process.”

The process reduces the material down to two per cent of its original volume.

From there, the material is packed into containers and sent overseas, where it is manufactured into products ranging from picture frames to skirting boards and outdoor furniture.

“Products made from recycled EPS waste maintain their durability and have made EPS a great product for the circular economy,” Chris says.

“With no viable replacement for EPS packaging in sight, businesses must begin doing their part to reduce the environmental strain caused by EPS waste.”

While Chris highlights the simplicity of Ecycle Solutions’ process, he notes that Australia’s EPS recycling rate isn’t where it should be.

“The difficulty is that a lot of these things aren’t a priority for businesses, but EPS is not going away. It’s more than likely going to increase because it has great properties as a product,” Chris says.

Although lightweight, Chris says bulky EPS takes up significant space in bins and skips, meaning true disposal costs are often hidden in a company’s general waste.

“Our collection program offers a simple yet sustainable solution for EPS waste removal and recycling. For businesses with large volumes of EPS waste, we can deliver long-term cost savings, while significantly reducing environmental footprints,” he says.

“We recycle enough loose EPS to fill the MCG each year, which illustrates the scope of our operations. But we’d love to do more, and we certainly have the capacity.”

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