Winners all round with Government e-waste program

Winners all round with Government e-waste program

Industry welcomes the new all-encompassing e-waste structure

The Environmental Protection Heritage Council’s (EPHC) national e-waste management program has been heralded the best possible solution for vendors, customers and the environment.

Announced last week, the program will be based on a consistent policy regulating electronic products disposal in Australia including computers, monitors and TVs. The policy is expected to come into effect in 2011 and all manufacturers and importers of electronic equipment will be required to join a Government-accredited Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO).

Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO, Ian Birks, said the proposal was in line with its lobbying and complemented its Byteback initiative, which is being trialled in Victoria in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria and various vendors. As a result of the Government’s decision, the AIIA will now look to expand Byteback into a national PRO program.

Express Data productivity and training manager, Kellie Winning, expected vendors would leverage distributors’ expertise in logistics to fulfil the requirements of the new legislation. “I have a couple of vendors who are interested in take-back programs and have asked us to help them,” she said. “I see Express Data acting as the middle man to help as a logistics centre and value-add for vendor and reseller partners.”

Although Express Data, which recently became the first distributor to obtain ISO14001 green accreditation, is interested in being involved in the new legislation, Winning wasn’t sure whether there would be formal requirements for distributors from EHPC. But whether distributors, integrators and resellers are regulated or not, vendors will throw down a gauntlet for their partners, Dimension Data environmental sustainability group head, Merle Singer, said.

“It still needs to be nutted out over the next 15 months just how far down the supply chain these regulations will have an impact,” she said. “Regardless, there will be greater expectation on all parts of the industry.” Dimension Data has already undergone an internal review of how it handles e-waste and is looking at how it can help partners with the reverse logistics process. Vendors voiced unanimous support for EHPC’s program while recognising there were many details yet to be finalised. In addition to the environmental benefits, such a scheme would result in cost savings for vendors, sustainability manager for Byteback participant Fuji Xerox, Amanda Keogh, said.

She highlighted the vendor’s Eco-Manufacturing Centre in Sydney as an example of possible savings. The centre has already remanufactured 250,000 parts and sub-assemblies annually to a ‘new’ quality, equating to a $6 million cost saving in the 2008/2009 financial year compared to sourcing and importing new parts.

However, some organisations will potentially lose out as new compliance regulations are built into the program.

“Vendors not already collecting e-waste will be hit with a cost,” Keogh said. “A reverse logistics process needs to be set-up to remove the equipment.”

Product Stewardship founding member, Panasonic, was likewise impressed with the EPHC’s announcement, claiming it was long overdue. Product Stewardship is a non-profit industry organisation with a consumer electronics focus, aimed at helping recover and recycle electronic and electrical products in an environmentally sound manner. Similarly to the AIIA, it has been lobbying the Government for a national e-waste scheme.

Panasonic Australia managing director, Steve Rust, said a national program would prevent organisations from bypassing responsibility by manipulating a state-by-state system. It also reduces costs for all involved by allowing large contracts with recyclers to be formed, delivering favourable economies of scale.

“Exact costs involved with the recycling have yet to be determined, but we believe it will be minimal, with no impact on the end user,” he said. “Any impact on costing would be absorbed by the continuing reduction in price of IT equipment.”

While Panasonic is not a member of Byteback, Rust said it supports the AIIA and would consider joining a national version of the program.

While aware of the AIIA and its Byteback program, Sony Australia chose Product Stewardship’s national scheme instead. Sony national technical services manager, Stuart Clark, said it was hoping PRO-holding organisations will collaborate for the removal of waste.

Consumer electronics and IT will be treated as separate concerns when it comes to earning PRO status, but as the finer details of the program are sorted through, collaboration will help differing organisations work together where necessary, Clark said.

“There will need to be a huge communication effort from the industry targeting at consumers and our retail partners to help them understand their roles to play in the scheme,” he added.

Networking vendor, D-Link also had no intention on joining an expanded Byteback program, but welcomed the EPHC decision. D-Link marketing director, Maurice Famularo, said the vendor has been working with Sims E-recycling over the last two years and welcomed the standardisation Government control would bring.

“There are still some issues to be worked out and understood,” Famularo said. “We can’t speak for the other vendors, but for our part we don’t take into consideration the costs of recycling in pricing our products – we pay Sims roughly $1.25/kg to process electronics.”

Organisations wanting to put forward their own PRO scheme will need to meet a set of Government criteria that hasn’t yet been formed, the AIIA’s Birks said. The industry group’s PRO submission to the EPHC includes an industry-based financing model with a defined scope, timeline and target for setting up a viable take-back program in Australia.

“The Byteback program will continue to run over the next year in Victoria as the regulations are formed, and then transition into a national scheme a year later,” Birks said. “Our target is to reach 75-80 per cent of all tech waste collected by 2020.”

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