Tuesday, November 10, 2009

from murdoch's australian paper

Fears over e-waste glut

* Karen Dearne
* From: The Australian
* November 10, 2009 12:00AM
AUSTRALIA'S largest electronic waste recycler warns of insufficient capacity to handle an expected avalanche of obsolete equipment as industry-run computer and TV recycling programs start to come onstream.

Sims Recycling Solutions senior vice-president Kumar Radhakrishnan welcomed last week's decision by state and federal environment ministers to adopt a product stewardship approach, but warned "significant new investment" would be needed to ensure appropriate handling of collected material.

Mr Radhakrishnan said the national capacity for e-waste recycling stood at about 30,000 tonnes per annum, with 20,000 tonnes of that supplied by Sims' hi-tech plant at Villawood, in Sydney's west. NSW alone generates some 20,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year.

"There are a few recyclers like us who have taken a bold step and invested in the technologies needed to recycle the various waste streams that come out of obsolete electronics, but really this is just the start," he said.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
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* Coping with a future of trash TV NEWS.com.au, 8 days ago

End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

"Much of the present capacity involves manual labour, and while you can theoretically increase capacity by taking on more people, that's not a viable solution for a developed country like Australia because of the labour cost.

"That's why you need intensive, mechanical solutions, based on high throughput."

Mr Radhakrishnan said federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett's announcement that 80 per cent of all outdated TVs and computer products would be put into recycling by 2021 - compared with about 10 per cent now - would give businesses confidence to invest.

The government would have to tackle "unscrupulous traders" who flouted international obligations, prohibiting the movement of hazardous waste without strict controls, he warned. "Yes, there is some e-waste that goes offshore (to specialist recyclers) under Basel permits, but there is also lots that goes without a permit to various countries where there is cheap labour," Mr Radhakrishnan said.

"That's not good for the people or the environment, and defeats the whole purpose of these programs. So there needs to be strong enforcement to prevent these sorts of movements."

Mr Garrett released a new National Waste Policy in Perth last week after the Environment Protection and Heritage Council agreed to the 10-year plan, which puts TVs and computers at the forefront of recycling initiatives, backed by new legislation.

"This is a fundamental shift in our approach, leading to less waste and better management of waste as a resource," he said.

The scheme will enable householders to drop off old equipment at local collection points, at no charge.

Mr Garrett said 16.8 million TVs, computers and related products reached the end of their useful lives in 2007-08, with 84 per cent ending up in landfill.

"If we were to continue without any form of producer responsibility scheme, it's estimated around 44 million TVs and computers would be discarded in 2028," Mr Garrett said.

A spokesman for Mr Garrett said the new collection programs would not be hampered by a lack of processing capacity.

"Existing facilities in Australia that deal with e-waste currently have unused capacity that will allow for initial expansion," he said.

"The National Waste Policy provides industry with the certainty that is likely to to drive the development of new infrastructure, including the potential introduction of the kinds of technology used overseas, which speeds up the recycling process."

The spokesman said because the new policy would create markets for handling waste domestically, "there will be less incentive to bypass the system by exporting without a permit".

In 2008-09, the Environment Department only issued two permits for the export of e-waste; these involved shipments totalling 3940 tonnes sent for recycling and metal recovery in Singapore and Thailand.

"Consistent with our obligations under the Basel Convention, permits are only supplied where safe handling and disposal is assured by the receiving country," he said.

Meanwhile, government backing for industry-run recycling schemes has been welcomed by manufacturers and consumers who have long lobbied for such an approach.

Australian Information Industry Association chief executive Ian Birks said all technology importers would need to participate in an accredited Producer Responsibility Organisation scheme or run the risk of fines and other government sanctions.

"Initially, there will be two industry PROs - the AIIA will support one for the computer industry and there will also be a television industry scheme - and we expect to start collecting product from consumers early in 2011," he said.

"The cost will be borne by our industry members but, based on international experience and with our Byteback computer recycling trial in Victoria, we believe the cost for recycling will probably be less than $2 per item."

As recycling was an economies of scale business, Mr Birks said, the AIIA had proposed a national ban on computer waste in landfills.

"However, it shows the level of commitment we have to making this happen and we feel it would be an appropriate mechanism to help us reach our targets."

It would be possible to extend the Byteback model nationwide, Mr Birks said, but the other states were "still looking at the opportunities" for similar programs by 2011.

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