TechCollect gathers momentum

TechCollect gathers momentum

The Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform reveals its goals and plans to improve e-waste recycling following six years of operation.

Since 2012, the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP) has collected more than 130,000 tonnes of e-waste, and recycled enough steel to build another Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

It collects this metal from e-waste generated through its free national program TechCollect, which also gathers high quality plastic, glass and rare metals such as gold.

TechCollect was established in response to the Product Stewardship Act and National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), legislation that obligates companies that import or manufacture computer or televisions to fund the recycling of their end-of-life products.

In the past 12 months, the program continued to expand its collection network across the country including the establishment of new sites servicing the needs of Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land.  

The ANZRP released a white paper in 2017 that reviewed the NTCRS and offered 31 recommendations to the Federal Government to enhance the scheme’s scope, increase e-waste recycling education and provide greater transparency based off the learnings gained from the TechCollect program.

One of the obstacles the NTCRS faces is its relatively limited scope. Under the scheme, personal computers, tablets, computer monitors, peripherals such as mice, keyboards, printers and scanners and all televisions can be recycled. 

While there is no federal definition of e-waste, it is generally considered across the states and territories to be any device with a cord, plug or battery. This means small household electronic items such as gaming consoles, digital cameras or stereo systems are not covered under the scheme.

Warren Overton, CEO of ANZRP, says these items contain significant amounts of high-value components that could be incorporated into the existing collection infrastructure.

“In Australia, we have a collection network in place with 293 sites around the country that could be used to further increase the amount of e-waste we can recycle. 

“If you can increase the scale of collection, it will reduce the unit cost of recycling,” he says.

“Expansion of our scope and further investment in consumer education has the potential to increase how much materials we would be able to collect.”

ANZRP has analysed accessibility of the scheme, breaking down its collection locations to find where it could potentially be improved. A significant portion of the collection points are operated in conjunction with local government authorities, which it says are critical to providing residents with e-waste recycling services.

Other permanent collection sites are located throughout a network of retail organisations, close to the point of sale for electronic items, and this network has significant potential to expand.

Maturing Australia’s recycling infrastructure is recognised as being one of the most important steps to achieve ANZRP’s annual material recovery target of 90 per cent.

Warren says that plastic is the biggest issue for e-waste recyclers as changes in the export market due to China’s implementation of the National Sword policy has made it difficult to identify appropriate markets that will process the material responsibly.

“While we’re able to collect e-waste, if recyclers can’t sell the materials it creates issues across the supply chain. State governments are doing well when it comes to capital grant funding for Australian processing, but we need the infrastructure in place to close the loop.”

While some recyclers were waiting for the Australian recycling markets to open, others are assessing waste to energy facilities or resorting to landfill  as they were unable to stockpile due to insurance and licence restrictions.

Transparency was also considered a key part of the future of the scheme, with the ANZRP recommending to the Federal Government to perform downstream vendor audits to ensure waste is going to the appropriate facilities.

Warren says after the ABC’s second season of the War on Waste, there was a significant increase in inquires how and where e-waste was being recycled.

“It’s important that consumers know where their waste is going, which is why we undertake independent audits of our recyclers.

“We are also establishing a system of GPS tracking similar to how they were used in the War on Waste to ensure e-waste is being recycled appropriately. Our efforts are ensuring recovered materials are being put back into the manufacturing supply chain so that fewer natural resources, including rare earth minerals are needed.”

New Zealand introduced similar e-waste collection legislation through its 2008 Waste Minimisation Act that detailed the possibilities of a product stewardship scheme for the country. To assist the New Zealand Government to improve its e-waste recycling rates, ANZRP is rolling out an international pilot program. 

Warren says the pilot would be an excellent chance to take the organisation’s experience it gained from collecting Australia’s e-waste.

“We have extensive experience handling collection in all types of communities in Australia, from metropolitan sites, to regional, rural and remote communities across large geographical distances,” Warren says.

The pilot will involve establishing collection sites, recycling processes and organising the logistics of the scheme. 

ANZRP aims to use its international members to ease the rollout through practices that can be used across both countries. 

The organisation intends to develop capacity and interest in e-waste recycling so that New Zealand can establish its own e-waste product stewardship scheme.