Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Australian e-waste policy

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts released a consultation paper on a National Waste Policy 7 April 2009. The paper is 62 pages long in a 397 Kbyte PDF or 1.3 Mb RTF file. The paper has 19 references to "e-waste" electronic waste as from computers and telecommunications equipment. Section 10 of the report asks: "What, if any, changes are needed to the way e-waste is managed?" and points out that some local governments have e-waste collections.

10. Electronic waste

This section explores the issue of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) and its management as a growing part of the waste stream.

Electronic waste or e-waste is discarded electronic or electrical equipment. It typically includes televisions, video and DVD players, stereos, mobile phones, computers, photocopiers, fax machines, printers as well as cartridges, batteries and peripheral devices associated with the equipment. E-waste consists predominantly of metals and plastics with some components having an economic value if recycled and some containing hazardous substances (which may also be valuable) (see Table 5).There is some community concern with the practice of landfilling electrical and electronic waste (e-waste). This may be because such waste contains hazardous substances, but also because of the relatively short life of these products, the desire not to waste the resources embodied in the waste, and the increasing volume going to landfill.

Table 5: Key materials in electrical and electronic equipment

ComponentEquipmentSubstances of concernRecyclable materials

Cathode ray tube

Personal computer monitor, television

Lead, antimony, mercury, phosphors

Mercury

Glass screens

Computer monitors, televisions, microwaves

Lead


Liquid crystal display

Notebook, laptop, mobile phone, some desktop computers

Mercury

Mercury

Circuit board

Telephone, personal computer, notebook, laptop, television, radio, audio amplifier, CD/DVD player, handheld games machines, mobile phones

Lead, beryllium, antimony, Brominated flame retardants, cadmium, arsenic

Gold

Silver

Palladium

Batteries

Telephone, personal computer, laptop, mobile phone, handheld games machines

Lead, lithium, cadmium, mercury

Cadmium

Cobalt

Nickel

Mercury

Power or external cables

Most electronic and electrical equipment

Phthalates

Copper

Plastic housing

Most electronic and electrical equipment

Brominated flame retardants

PVC

(Based on WEEE and Hazardous Waste, A report for DEFRA, March 2004 by AEA Technology. The report defines WEEE as waste from electrical and electronic equipment. DEFRA is the United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.)

E-waste is a growing component of the waste stream. In 2005 an estimated 697,000 tonnes of electronic equipment was consumed with approximately 312,930 tonnes of electronic equipment disposed of to landfill.1 It is estimated that approximately

570,900 computers are disposed of annually in Australia, with only a quarter being recycled. Current annual disposal of televisions is around 350,000 units.

Figure 7: TVs landfilled 2000–2005

(Hyder Consulting, 2008)

Data for the years 2004 and 2005 is only available in aggregated format.Figure omitted

Figure 8: Computers landfilled 1998–2008

(Hyder Consulting, 2008)

Figure omitted

In 2007–08 approximately 8.87 million mobile phone units were imported into Australia, an increase of 1.48 million from 2006–07 (7.39 million).2 For televisions, Hyder Consulting reported an 18 per cent increase in sales from 2003 to 2004.3 An

estimated 3.5 million computers were purchased in Australia in 2005, including units that were assembled locally from imported parts.4

The rapid growth in e-waste is driven by factors including consumer demand to have the latest equipment, the need to upgrade systems to accommodate new software, the rate of technological change, the short lifespan and technical obsolescence of the equipment and increasing affordability.There are limited options for the public to recycle domestic e-waste. Most e-waste is disposed of to landfill, while the cost for recycling of e-waste is carried primarily by those consumers who take the initiative to recycle their computers through a recycling centre. The potential long-term costs arising from landfilled e-waste, including health and environmental costs from the possible leaching of contaminants from e-waste into the environment, are likely to be carried by the community.A number of computer recyclers operate in Australia, some offer pick-up services and the majority charge a fee for recycling. Some local councils hold collection days for end-of-life computer equipment and either stock pile the waste or send it to recyclers. There are a number of voluntary initiatives for recycling e-waste, including recycling mobile phones through Mobile Muster (www.mobilemuster.com.au), Cartridges for Planet Ark (www.cartridges.planetark.org) and the computer industry and Victorian Government partnership to run the Byteback computer recycling scheme (www.bytebackaustralia.com.au/).Currently the Australian Capital Territory is the only state or territory to have regulation governing the domestic management of e-waste, placing a levy on the disposal of televisions and computers at landfill sites. South Australia is in the process of consulting on legislation to ban computer monitors and televisions from landfills, with a ban on all other electrical or electronic equipment within three years. The New South Wales Government has also identified computers, televisions, mobile phones and “other electricals” as “wastes of concern” and is investigating product stewardship arrangements.The Environment Protection and Heritage Council is examining options to deal with end-of-life televisions and computers. Among the options are proposals from both the television and computer industries for product stewardship schemes. The industry-proposed product stewardship schemes would place a charge on eligible new product that would then be used to pay for recycling at the end of its life (an advance recycling fee).

Consultation question

  1. What, if any, changes are needed to provide a national approach to the way e-waste is managed?

1 Hyder Consulting, Waste recycling in Australia, November 2008, p.68

2 Mobile Muster 2007–08 Annual Report, p.6

3 Hyder Consulting, Waste recycling in Australia, November 2008 p.53 and 54

4 Hyder Consulting, Waste recycling in Australia, November 2008, p.49

From: "A National Waste Policy: Managing Waste to 2020", Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts released the consultation paper, 7 April 2009

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