Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Plan to keep old TVs out of landfill in the digital era

Ben Cubby
May 16, 2009

AS PEOPLE begin the switch to digital television, recyclers are expecting a glut of analog TVs to swell the nation's already-bulging stockpiles of electronic waste.

But a new plan to make companies responsible for recycling the millions of televisions they import each year is supported by industry and environment groups.

They point out that almost all televisions, and other used electronic goods such as old computers and mobile phones, are simply dumped in landfill, where dangerous chemicals can leach out.

"The situation we have now is really a national embarrassment," said John Gertsakis, executive officer of Product Stewardship Australia, a group representing about 70 per cent of the companies that import plasma and LCD televisions.

"Most of the other [Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development] countries have systems in place, but we have seen no action yet from the Government," he said.

Australian federal and state governments will consider the scheme when environment ministers converge at the Environmental Protection and Heritage Council meeting on Friday.

The plan for electronic waste, known as e-waste, involves a levy on importers that would be used to collect and process used electronic goods. When old TVs are replaced, they could either be taken to a council depot or back to a retail service centre, where they would be retrieved and recycled.

Product Stewardship Australia says its scheme can be implemented at no cost to people buying new TVs, though it conceded that some retailers might choose to raise their prices slightly to offset the levy.

An estimated 1.5 million televisions are discarded each year, according to the Environmental Heritage and Protection Council, though that figure is thought to have risen since the data was compiled in 2004.

While many of the glass, plastic and circuitry components can be used again, only about 1 per cent or 2 per cent of these 1.5 million televisions are recycled. The recycling rate for computers is believed to be slightly higher.

"There's virtually no recycling of TVs in Australia," said the director of the Total Environment Centre, Jeff Angel. "The Government should create a level playing field, where companies that do the right thing are not penalised by paying to do so, and that would lead to a massive boost in recycling."

The NSW Opposition wants the State Government to introduce a levy if no national plan emerges from Friday's ministers' meeting.

"We've got the new Rudd stimulus TVs coming in and now, with the switch to digital, we're about to see the whole national TV inventory completely turned over and at this stage the Government ought to have a clear plan for recycling them," said the Opposition's environment spokeswoman, Catherine Cusack.

But a spokesman for the state Minister for the Environment, Carmel Tebbutt, said: "The NSW Government is committed to a national approach to solve the problem of e-waste. The minister will be closely examining any proposals put forward at the EPHC meeting in Hobart next week."

Ben Cubby is The Sydney Morning Herald's Environment Reporter.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2009/05/15/1242335888910.html

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