Efforts to develop a national e-waste management scheme continue to stir up debate within the industry about where responsibility lies.
The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has spent several years developing initiatives to manage e-waste. The latest state-oriented program being considered for national expansion is Byteback, which currently runs in conjunction with the Victorian State Government's Sustainability Victoria agency.
Byteback allows users to drop off computer-related equipment to depots across the state. The recycling bill is picked up by the state government and participating vendors. So far 10 vendors are involved - Apple, Canon, Dell, Epson, Fujitsu, Fuji Xerox, HP, IBM, Lenovo and Lexmark.
That leaves a large number of major vendors that have not signed up. AIIA's Josh Millen, who is tasked with the association's corporate social responsibility, said any such program would struggle to attract Federal Government support without broader vendor involvement.
Vendors not participating in Byteback had mixed views about whether a holistic industry or government scheme was the best solution. Acer head of product management, Robin Tang, was not convinced government intervention could succeed and argued the auditing process required to check every vendor's e-waste practices would be difficult to run. Acer looked at participating in the Byteback program a while ago but opted to stick with developing its own e-waste initiatives.
"Our belief is that e-waste is something that has to be governed by individual vendors," he said. "It's hard to fit a program to the whole industry.
"It's something that becomes sensitive when you look at industry-wide programs and who is following the agreement. It's hard to measure that when you have joint funding because it's difficult to govern."
BenQ country manager, Phil Newton, agreed government schemes could generate more bureaucracy but argued legislation was the only way to ensure all vendors dealt with e-waste properly. While involved in a number of responsible manufacturing and environmental initiatives globally, BenQ doesn't have any specific Australian initiatives.
"I see this issue [e-waste] being a mutual responsibility between government bodies and the manufacturers," he said. "If a program is mandated, then sure we'd participate, but I don't see many vendors coming on voluntarily as you could be losing a competitive advantage."
One way to enforce e-waste policies would be government mandating requirements from vendors. Newton said this would be similar to what is done around electrical safety and electromagnetic transmissions.
"We need to ensure we have a playing field that is level," he said.
Toshiba Information Systems Division general manager, Mark Whittard, also supported government guidelines and said the vendor would be willing to look at any industry-based program. He claimed it had not had a full rundown on Byteback to date.
Toshiba has been running its own e-waste take-back program for the past 12 months. Users with Toshiba-branded products can return them to its service centres free of charge. The vendor will also take back other vendor products for a fee.
"I'm sure Byteback is a great idea but, regardless of the AIIA's efforts, it needs government involvement. The user has to pay for something - this could be an upfront tax or levy, or some part of the program could be managed by vendors embedded in their costs somehow," Whittard said.