Public's thoughts wanted on national e-waste approach




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A national approach for dealing with Australia's e-waste is closer to being realised, with the public invited to comment on proposed strategies.

In requesting community input on plans for dealing with computer and television waste, Minister for the Environment and Chair of the Environment, Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC), Peter Garrett, said:

"This is the first step in agreeing a solution, and we would like the public to be a key part of this process. Community response to the consultation package will help pave the way for new product stewardship arrangements.''

A Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement has been released on the EPHC website HERE for response from the public and industry stakeholders. It presents the results of a cost benefit analysis of options for managing end-of-life televisions and computers.

The consultation package also includes a modelling study on the willingness to pay for e-waste recycling and a Draft Code of Practice for Managing End-of-Life Televisions.

A series of public consultation forums will be held in Adelaide, Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne during the public consultation period, although dates for the meetings have yet to be confirmed.

In 2007/08, 17 million televisions, computers and computer products reached their end of life. Only 10 per cent were recycled.

While increasing numbers of products are being sold and ownership of electrical products soars, waste volumes are also increasing due to shorter product life spans. In 20 years the number of end of life products is forecast to have grown to 44 million per year.

E-waste regulation in Australia is currently managed by individual states. For example, the ACT has banned the disposal of computer monitors and television screens in landfill. There are also recycling schemes run by specific manufacturers such as Dell and Apple.

However, this consultation package is the first step towards a uniform national approach to regulation.

While the case for introducing regulation seems clear cut, the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement considers a number of issues.

For example, while many TV and computer components - such as glass and plastic - can be recycled, there are also components that will need controlled disposal channels in place, such as bromine, mercury and zinc. In landfill these toxic materials can leach out and pose a threat to both humans and the environment.

Unfortunately current costs for extracting materials from old units makes it cheaper for manufacturers to purchase new raw materials rather than use recycled components. However, a recent survey of over 2000 Australians, cited in the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement, shows that consumers are willing to pay more for units if recycling is implemented.

The same survey shows that there is less recycling of TVs and computers than the community expects, with the report also highlighting problems in past attempts to implement schemes in Australia, in particulaar citing difficulties in getting support from all industry players.

Internationally, e-waste regulations have already been implemented across countries. To decrease e-waste and put the burden of recycling on the manufacturer, the European Union, for example, has issued a series of directives and regulations to increase the recovery, reuse and recycling of electronic materials.

The intention is to decrease e-waste and e-waste exports, and encourage manufacturers to create new, greener products that are safer and easier to upgrade, fix and recycle. Similar efforts are underway in China and Japan.

In Australia, the EPHC has agreed to finalise product stewardship arrangements for end of life televisions and computers at its next meeting in November this year.

The deadline for responses to the consultation package is 13 August 2009.