The NSW Government wants feedback from the IT industry on a plan to reduce the amount of waste caused by discarded computers and nickel cadmium batteries.
The alternatives to landfill are being developed by the Government in an industry-wide plan to improve recycling and rid the environment of harmful chemicals.
Other products such as televisions, tyres, agricultural chemicals, packaging, whitegoods, and cigarette butts have also been singled out as areas of concern.
As part of the initiative, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is releasing a consultation paper on its Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) statement that identifies areas where it would encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of its products.
According to the EPR, up to 5000 tonnes of computer goods go into landfill each year in NSW. Circuit boards, batteries and the glass in cathode ray tube TV screens contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and chromates. The toxic chemicals contained in the products can be released into the environment when water percolates through landfills.
Rechargeable nickel cadmium batteries, commonly used in laptop computers, create a barrier to recycling by causing environmental and health problems if disposed of inappropriately.
The EPR scheme encourages the whole supply chain, not just manufacturers of products, but also importers, transporters, distributors and resellers to take responsibility for the waste that passes through the industry.
The consultation paper asks industry to develop schemes that could include the take back of old equipment free of charge, meeting minimum recycled content levels, developing products with increased capacity for reuse, and using “eco-labelling” that tells consumers about the environmental performance of a product.
NSW Attorney General and Minister for the Environment, Bob Debus, said that while recycling had been successful in reducing waste to landfill it could not alone be relied upon in the future. The NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy represented a shift in the way consumers thought about managing waste.
“We’ve got to generate less waste and move to products that are made from recyclable material or that reduce damage to our environment,” Debus said. “For example, lead from computer screens and cadmium from laptop batteries can leach into the soil and waterways when dumped.”
A program for waste reduction would be organised over the next 12 months where residents and small businesses could take their old computers to selected drop-off sites for recycling. Since the trial began in November 2002, more than 2500 pieces of computer equipment had been collected.
It is estimated that four million obsolete computers from households and the small business sector were currently sitting in storage in Australia.
Further information is available at, and comments about the EPR paper can be made on, the EPA web site at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/waste