A move to introduce compulsory e-waste management programs by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) has been embraced by the industry at large. But it has raised debate around which are the most appropriate programs and policies to implement.
In a communiqué released last week, the EPHC announced its support for a national e-waste product stewardship system, claiming studies showed the broad community has a high willingness to pay for recycling end-of-life computers and televisions.
The study will be released in July as part of a Regulation Impact Statement for public consultation to identify the most appropriate policy mechanisms for electronics recycling governance. EPHC has agreed to finalise product stewardship arrangements for tyres, computers and televisions at its next meeting in November.
Australian Information and Industry Association (AIIA) corporate social responsibility policy manager, Josh Millen, praised the Government’s decision to go with a national model.
“When we’ve looked at overseas, state-by-state policies, we’ve noticed there’s overall confusion and difficulties involved for both vendors and manufacturers,” he said. “The Government has taken the right step with this, and now we need to see what happens over the next six months.
“With the EPHC, vendors will have to get on-board with e-recycling somehow, although we’ve lobbied for them to have the option of joining in an initiative, or having their own policies in place.” Millen pointed to the AIIA’s existing Byteback trial program as a good basis for a national scheme, saying it had been successful as an information gathering exercise and provided good guidance for vendors once an overarching policy was in place. The Byteback program has been extended to the end of the year and now has the support of 11 vendors including latest recruit, Brother.
“We’ve found there are 28 companies accounting for around 70 per cent of products coming in through the trial,” Millen said. “In addition, having Officeworks on-board has given us an interesting retail perspective.”
Fujitsu head of sustainability, Alison O’Flynn, welcomed the EPHC decision, seeing it as an extension of all vendors’ obligations for environmental practices. Fujitsu is part of the Byteback program.
“It’s part of our social responsibility, and should be built into the total cost of ownership for organisations,” she said. “The details still need to be worked through, but we back the AIIA’s position.”
A spokesperson for HP, which also participates in Byteback, positioned the program as the preferred model for waste management delivery.
“It is based on shared and individual producer responsibility,” the spokesperson said. “HP supports the development of underpinning regulation for electronic equipment recycling that ensures a level playing field in Australia.”
Distribution Central CEO, Scott Frew, also welcomed the announcement from a channel perspective, but raised concerns about the cost for niche players. The local infrastructure distributor run a similar program to Byteback for smaller manufacturers in its portfolio.
“We’ll have to wait and see what legislation comes out of this, however something that the smaller manufacturers might struggle with are the hidden costs – such as freight,” Frew said. “There is opportunity for the channel to get involved by helping the smaller manufacturers get the waste to the depots.”
But while keen to seen mandatory e-waste policies put in place, not everyone is convinced the Byteback model will be the right answer. Although he was supportive of the EPHC’s announcement, managing director of recycling organisation TES-AMM, Alvin Piadasa, argued the Byteback program couldn’t survive in its current format and would require greater investments from vendors.
“The Byteback program, with the level of investment from the Victorian Government, is not sustainable. For it to continue, the participating vendors would need to make greater investments. However, voluntary schemes such as this should be a good way to comply with the compulsory policies,” he said. “I doubt Byteback will continue in its current form.” IDC associate analyst, PC hardware, Felipe Rego, said end-user education is a critical component of the EPHC’s initiative.
“Creating awareness to consumers will be an issue. Instead of dumping end-of-life products into normal rubbish, theoretically consumers will now be able to drop it in a recycling bin in a convenient distance, or simply get in contact with the manufacturer to address the recycling of the item as well,” he said. An expanded Byteback program, with the participation of more vendors and national reach, would be a beneficial solution for all, Rego said.
“The challenge is to get every vendor involved, but now - with a national e-waste scheme - society will fully benefit from it. As the program was a local Victoria-based one, the need now is to expand it on a national scale,” he said. “This will require investment that will probably be shared among industry bodies, vendors and government.”