The time is Right to Repair, but it requires policies and programs that acknowledge the barriers and opportunities to making it work, writes John Gertsakis, Adjunct Professor at UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures.
With just over a month to go, Ewaste Watch questions how prepared Victoria is to realise the benefits of the e-waste landfill ban.
Victoria will become the third jurisdiction in Australia to ban e-waste from landfill on 1 July, following in the footsteps of the ACT and South Australia.
Ewaste Watch director Rose Read said while the state government has made efforts to increase the number of convenient drop-off locations, she is unsure if communities and businesses are sufficiently aware of new collection points.
Ms Read also said critical questions had not been answered, including, will householders and businesses have to pay for the recycling? What controls are in place to ensure waste is properly recycled? What will happen to data left on electronic items? And can householders and businesses take their electronic goods back to manufacturers for free recycling?
“Finally, will local councils who are left to implement the landfill ban be able to field the many questions and provide collection services that meet the expectations of residents and businesses?” Ms Read said.
“If not, there is a real risk we may see an increase in illegal dumping, problematic stockpiling and general non-compliance with the ban.”
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,” Mr Gertsakis said.
“The Victorian e-waste ban is a great opportunity to adjust consumer behaviour, build a circular economy and provide a clear signal to the electronics and battery industries to produce more durable and sustainable goods.”
A new independent think-tank Ewaste Watch will launch this Friday with the aim of protecting community health and the environment through accelerating levels of electronics sustainability.
Ewaste Watch will focus on three key questions, are we doing enough? can we do better? and what are the solutions beyond recycling?
The think tank is calling on federal Environment Minister Melissa Price to expand the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include all products with a plug or a battery, and ensure that end-of-life electronics are diverted from landfill.
Ewaste Watch is also calling on Ms Price to create a regulated national recycling scheme for all handheld batteries under the Commonwealth Product Stewardship Act.
Ewaste Watch Director and co-founder John Gertsakis said Australian’s are globally the fourth highest generators of e-waste per capita, producing over 23.6 kilograms per inhabitant or 574,000 tonnes per annum.
According Mr Gertsakis, the world generates 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste a year, with only 20 percent being recycled through appropriate channels.
Mr Gertsakis said there is a lack of effective collaboration, research and action on how to effectively deal with the rapid growth of electronics and the associated socio-environmental impacts.
“Electronic products are proliferating in society, and in many ways have become an extension of us that we take for granted,” Mr Gertsakis said.
“The reality however, is that recycling alone will not deliver the sustainable outcomes and materials conservation required. Greater attention is needed on product durability, reuse, repair, sharing and productive material-use to turn the tide on ewaste and create circular electronics.”
The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme regulated under the Commonwealth Product Stewardship Act has collected and recycled 291,280 tonnes — roughly 42 per cent of waste arising — of TV and computer ewaste since its creation in 2011.
Mr Gertsakis said this doesn’t include a variety of other end-of-life electronics, most of which are still ending up in landfill.
“There are few if any collection, reuse or recycling options for small appliances, power-tools, photovoltaic panels, handheld batteries and a growing number of consumer electronics devices,” Mr Gertsakis said.
According to Mr Gertsakis, Australian’s import 100,000 tonnes of televisions, computers, printers and computer accessories each year, roughly 35 million pieces of electronic equipment per annum.
“The Federal Government must require any company placing Internet of Things devices on the Australian market to provide a detailed plan for the reuse and recycling of these devices when they are damaged, replaced or reach end-of-life — including how such plans will be funded,” Mr Gertsakis said.
Ewaste Watch’s second Director and co-founder Rose Read said the think-tank will inform, educate, engage and activate key stakeholders across the electronics life-cycle, from design and manufacturing through to retail, government and the general public.
“Business as usual and voluntary programs have barely made a dent in the total volume of ewaste arising, so the urgency for step-change improvement, new business models and positive disruption is now overwhelmingly obvious,” Ms Read said.
“Circular solutions for electronics across the complete product life-cycle is a cornerstone for Ewaste Watch, as is the need to empower consumers to buy less, choose well and make it last.”
Ewaste Watch’s activities will include attention to social and consumer aspects, product design, cleaner production, smart logistics, innovative consumption models such as sharing economies and collaborative consumption, reuse, repair and recycling.
Ms Read said Ewaste Watch will achieve this through knowledge sharing, policy analysis, consumer education, exhibitions and public activations.
Ewaste Watch will collaborate closely with its research partner the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney, with Professor of Resource Futures Damien Giurco chairing the Ewaste Watch advisory group.
Ewaste Watch will be officially launched by War on Waste presenter Craig Reucassel at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures.
Equilibrium has developed a tool with the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) to assist local councils and kerbside service operators to assess changes to contracts.
The methodology comes off the back of China’s National Sword policy, which has spurred on numerous contract renegotiations across Australia. It is intended to act as a guide that councils and others can use to suit their particular circumstances and requirements, rather than being prescriptive. It includes examples, instructions and indicative responses aiming to make it simple to use.
MWRRG developed the tool in consultation with councils, industry groups, materials recovery facility operators and other states.
MWRRG is using the system with Victorian Councils, and it has been widely circulated to all states, major recyclers and industry groups. The methodology assists parties involved in kerbside recycling arrangements to make informed decisions on ongoing arrangements based on principles of accountability, transparency and reasonableness when negotiating and agreeing to service arrangements.
It sets out the principles of kerbside recycling, considerations for assessing kerbside recycling service arrangements, commodity price indices, factors and calculations to inform financial considerations and monitoring and verification of agreements.
- Equilibrium’s downstream supply chain service
- Recharging the conversation: battery recycling
- Review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011 consultation paper
Equilibrium Managing Director Nick Harford said the current issues surrounding contract stability have highlighted that the community wants and supports kerbside recycling. He said it is incumbent on the waste industry to ensure services are sustainable.
“The current situation with kerbside recycling has motivated an update of kerbside arrangements by some materials recovery facility (MRF) operators and collectors, as they have expressed concerns about meeting current contractual obligations. In Victoria, there is a requirement for councils to update arrangements with MRF operators in order to be able to access the state government financial support,” Mr Harford said.
The tool calculates the market commodity prices for materials such as mixed paper, paper grade, cardboard grade, mixed grade, PET plastic, HDPE plastic, aluminium, steel and glass. In addition, it shows the percentage of total materials in kerbside by weight and the average tonnes processed per annum. Operating expenditure is divided into labour, repair and maintenance, consumables, waste to landfill, rent, rates, interest, business insurance, legal compliance and reporting, systems accreditation and certification and a range of other key metrics.
Mr Harford said the figures included in the template method were based on current market intelligence and reported composition of materials in kerbside.
“Having said that however, the figures are indicative and as a guide only, it is intended that the method and tool is adapted to each individual circumstance and the numbers re-entered to reflect actual specific arrangements,” he said.
He said kerbside recycling is a relatively complex arrangement when all factors are considered and it is not homogeneous. Mr Harford noted that council contracts differ and companies use varying business and operational models.
“It is therefore necessary to assess a broad range of activities to determine whether the service being offered is adequate, the price is reasonable and the operation is sustainable. The risk assessment is a process to navigate what may or may not be a priority for a particular arrangement. The most significant risk factors depend on each circumstance.
“For some councils, security of downstream markets for commodities may be paramount, while for others it may be business contingency and insurance. The method and tool enables assessment of a wide range of risk factors.”
Mr Harford said general feedback has been positive and that the information is helping people work through reviewing and, where needed, updating kerbside arrangements.
“Equilibrium doesn’t present this is as being anything entirely novel as most people with a working knowledge of kerbside would be aware of these issues, but it is a way to bring more transparency and accountability to current considerations. The method and tool is being updated based on further feedback and to also account for other factors that some operators have requested – one being an ability to assess capital expenditure impacts on ongoing arrangements.”
MWRRG Chief Executive Officer Rob Millard said the organisation has shared the tool with other jurisdictions to inform and support a consistent approach to dealing with recycling challenges across the country.
To request a copy email firstname.lastname@example.org or call + 61 3 9372 5356
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