Australian Information Industry Association


Tackling the mounting e-waste problem

Monday, 03 Jul 2017

This article has been provided courtesy of the Australia Business Review

Australians are among the biggest users of technology in the world, buying millions of items a year. We love our gadgets and regularly update our devices, but the flip side of all this consumption is that electronic waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste.

As more and more outdated electronic equipment - like computers, photocopiers, printers, faxes, monitors, batteries and mobile phones - ends up in landfill, the negative impacts of e-waste on the environment and society will increase.

These electronics can contain small amounts of hazardous pollutants such as lead, arsenic and mercury. Through recycling, we can help prevent these pollutants from ending up in landfill and recover some of the valuable materials in various components.

However, this process can be expensive and has led to unscrupulous operators in many countries, including Australia, to illegally ship e-waste to less developed economies where dangerous and environmentally harmful recycling methods persist. When the ABC reported that computer monitors from an Australian bank, destined for recycling in Australia, were found on a toxic e-waste dump in west Africa, it highlighted failures in current e-waste disposal supply chains.

So how do we go about solving the mounting global problem of e-waste?

Local solutions

The solution to the global e-waste problem starts at home – think globally and act locally. The AIIA’s Environment Special Interest Group (ESIG) has already made a significant impact on Australia’s environmental landscape by being strong advocates for better regulation on the dangerous impacts of e-waste for which our industry is responsible.

The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) provides a good example of the kind of collaboration with governments, green groups, industry and recyclers necessary to drive responsible programs. It was established in 2011 to provide Australian households and small business with access to industry-funded collection and recycling services for televisions and computers.

A legislative review of the NTCRS is due to commence this year. The AIIA’s ESIG is arguing for expansion of the scheme to include everything with a plug and battery. This will enable economies of scale for industry and increase the amount of recycling at no extra cost to consumers.

To date, more than 1,800 collection services have been made available to the public and more than 130,000 tonnes of TV and computer e-waste has been collected and recycled. This has diverted hazardous materials away from landfill and enabled the reuse of valuable resources.

Under the scheme, brands have agreed to recycle 80 per cent of waste by 2020. It’s a shared responsibility approach between industry and government – with industry ultimately taking on the lion’s share of the responsibility and cost.

Cartridges 4 Planet Ark Program

AIIA member Canon has a long history of involvement in recycling schemes and started the world’s first global printer toner recycling program over 25 years ago. In recognition of its outstanding environmental achievement and leadership, Canon received the NSW Sustainability Advantage Gold Partner Award in April.

The ‘Cartridges 4 Planet Ark’ program provides Australians with a free, convenient and environmentallyaccredited way to recycle their used printer cartridges. The voluntary program, which began in 2002, is a collaboration between industry manufacturers that promote and pay for the program, Planet Ark (an Australian not-for-profit environmental foundation), Close the Loop (recycler and program manager), and retail partners (who provide collection points for consumers).

Participating manufacturers include Canon, Brother, Epson, HP, Konica Minolta and Kyocera.

The unique aspect of the program is that businesses can place collection boxes in their offices and cartridges are then returned for remanufacturing and recycling.

There are cartridge collection bins in over 2500 businesses throughout Australia, as well as in retailers such as Officeworks and Australia Post. The program comes with a zero waste to landfill guarantee and this is verified every year by an independent auditor. Where possible, materials are recycled into pure commodity streams such as metals and plastics.

However, because the recycled materials contain a mix of plastics, Close theLoop has also invested heavily in developing products that can be made from these mixed waste streams. Two of the most successful products are eWood®, a functional and sustainable material which can be used to replace timber, and TonerPave®, a high-performance asphalt.

2016-17 has been the best year for the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program yet. Approximately 13,500 cartridges have been returned every working day for the past 12 months. Also, nearly 8 million Canon cartridges alone have been recycled through the program since it started in 2003.

Global solutions

Recycling is one approach to reducing e-waste. However, roughly 80 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted by the ICT industry is emitted in the manufacturing process, so reuse of products is by far the best outcome in terms of environmental sustainability. The industry supports the export model where products and parts are broken down in Australia, and then components are sold overseas into international commodity markets to be reused.

The reuse market is growing in developing countries but the export of e-waste must be effectively tracked and policed to prevent illegal dumping.

The Australian Government is actively involved in deterring this activity and there’s some good work being done already through the Basel Convention on movement of hazardous waste,but more needs to be done.

Recyclers should be incentivised to provide tracking of e-waste as a normal business offering. This step, along with ongoing regular scrutiny from external auditors will help reduce illegal dumping.

Next steps forward

The local ICT Industry has led the development of product stewardship in Australia and plays an active role through the industry-for-industry co-regulatory arrangement known as the Australia New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP).

Formed by members of the AIIA’s ESIG and CESA (Consumer Electronics Society of Australia), ANZRP collects and recycles end of life TVs and computers from consumers and small businesses around Australia for free. Not resting on their laurels, ESIG and ANZRP are both advocating for a broader range of electronic products to be included under the NTCRS as part of its recommendations for the current regulatory review. Sustainable ICT initiatives in Australia should be recognised by the wider community and grown throughout the global economy as they offer workable models that can be emulated by businesses worldwide.

To encourage more innovation the AIIA’s iAwards recognises outstanding contributions to environmental sustainability as part of the Community service award category.

We will continue to work with our members to identify and resource key programs which can reduce e-waste and carbon emissions. This will have an impact locally in Australia, as well as make a significant contribution to solving the e-waste problem globally