One-time building contractor Ian Kiernan is the founder and chairman of Clean Up Australia. ARN news editor Richard Noone talks to Kiernan on the current state of waste in the IT sector.
ARN: What are the biggest contributors to IT waste?
Kiernan: Well it's everything. It's the packaging it arrives in. It's the equipment when it becomes obsolete and defunct. It's the toner cartridges, it's the drums, and it's the huge volume of paper that's produced in offices. What we've got to do is start looking at the waste stream as a resource stream and get value from it instead of dumping it.
Waste stream to resource stream? How does that work?
Simply recycling paper will do that. You're not paying tip fees on it anymore. You've got someone willingly taking it away, whether it's Visy [Plastic] or whoever. The Kyocera example is a good one too. When your photocopier is finished and worn out or the cartridges are defunct you don't need to dump them - Kyocera will come and take them away and recycle them.
How would you rate the IT industry against, say, mining or other verticals?
I wouldn't have that statistic at my fingertips. It's by and large a responsible industry, but there is still a lot more they can do and some operators are better than others. The thing is, when you get an operator that comes and wants to lift their game and lift their recycling rates then that takes the argument to their competitors. Personally, I would rather deal with somebody that has that high level of commitment if the price of their products was the same as somebody who doesn't give a damn.
Who owns the problem?
I support the European approach, which is that the producer of the waste should take responsibility for its proper disposal at the end of the day. After all, they've made the profit out of it. It is easier and better in the long run for it to be done on a voluntary basis rather than having to be legislated.
How do you measure the cost?
If you do pollute unnecessarily there is an additional cost somewhere down the line. It might not come directly to you or the polluter, but it's going to come to someone. If you go and buy 20 new computers and they all come packed in styrene and you let that styrene blow into the creek, then someone someday will have to clean that up or the council will do it, which will come out of your rates. Or you'll see a degraded stream so the environmental asset will be worth less than it would have been if that stream was pristine. These are basic green economics.