Five years on and the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) has diverted between 45,000 and 55,000 tonnes annually of television and computer e-waste from landfill.
Tens of millions of dollars are being invested by importers and manufacturers year on year to make the NTCRS available to the community.
This investment has provided much greater public access to free recycling services nationwide through a substantial increase in the number of free drop-off sites. Industry is also making the e-waste recycling process more rigorous through the adoption of the collection, transporting and handling of electrical and electronics standard AS 5377.
However, is industry and government getting the best result given the investment? How can we make the funds go further and deliver improved outcomes for the environment, the community and the economy?
MRI E-cycle Solutions, Australia’s pioneer in e-waste and battery recycling, and an approved co-regulatory arrangement under the NTCRS, believes that the Federal Government’s review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011 and the NTCRS is timely and necessary.
“MRI E-cycle Solutions is very committed to helping ensure the success of the NTCRS and product stewardship generally in Australia,” says Rose Read, chief executive officer of MRI PSO.
“The review is a great opportunity to further refine the NTCRS and enhance the resource recovery outcomes to the benefit of the community, the environment and the economy.
“Specifically, we see seven simple changes the Government can make to improve the scheme’s operation and cost effectiveness, while also keeping e-waste out of landfill and minimising the environmental and human health impacts of e-waste,” says Read.
1. Revising the waste arising calculation so they adequately account for exported reuse and hoarding
MRI E-cycle Solutions believes that the current targets of up to 80 percent in 2026-27 are not achievable. They fail to adequately account for the actual volume of computers and televisions being exported for reuse or people’s hoarding behaviours in the waste arising calculations.
There are two ways to deal with this, either include the volume exported for reuse in the waste arising calculation or allow product exported for reuse to be counted in an Arrangement’s target. There would need to be clear guidelines on what is deemed eligible exported reuse that should over time be included in the AS 5377.
2. Simplifying the Scheme/Arrangement Target and Liable Party Volume Calculations
Scheme and Arrangement Targets are currently based on the previous three years of imports, whereas a corporation’s liability and share of the Target is based on imports in the previous year. This means that a corporation cannot easily forecast the amount of e-waste it is liable for to collect and recycle in each year.
To simplify this, it is recommended that the Scheme and Arrangement Target is based on imports in the previous year only. There is limited value given the maturity of the market in using three years of imports to determine the Scheme Target each year.
This will also mean each arrangement and liable party can easily calculate their target for each year as well as provide greater transparency to all stakeholders on the percentage of free-riders being covered.
3. Revising reasonable access rules for remote and outer regional areas to ensure efficient use of industry funds
While the number of free drop-off sites available to the public has increased substantially, there is a lack of consistent, well-promoted collection services in outer regional and remote areas due to the costs of servicing these areas and the reasonable access requirements under the regulations.
This is where the competitive market approach is not delivering on the objectives of the regulations. Duplication of collection points in these regions is an inefficient use of industry funds. It would be more effective for arrangements to collaborate and share resources in these regions as a way of meeting service levels expected by councils and communities.
To make this happen the Government should revise the reasonable access rules so that they facilitate collaboration between arrangements and local government to devise and implement efficient collection programs for remote and outer regions where costs are shared equitably between all stakeholders.
4. Requiring all AS/NZ 5377 auditors to be JAS-ANZ accredited
The introduction of AS/NZ 5377 has been a welcome and essential addition to the NTCRS; however, its effective application by some organisations and providers has been lacking and less than rigorous.
MRI E-cycle Solutions believes that there is an urgent need to ensure closer monitoring of the standard’s application including a more demanding audit process. Based on our operational experience across numerous sites, operators and downstream providers, it would appear there is a lack of adequate awareness and technical understanding of the standard and its intent.
To ensure all auditors are trained appropriately and to ensure consistency, each AS/NZ5377 auditor should be JAS-ANZ accredited and should undertake regular training on e-waste processing. This includes developing competencies in the management of hazardous materials and dangerous goods handling, as well as understanding offshore processing with a focus on downstream mass load balance.
It should be made clear in the regulations that AS/NZ 5377 certification does not imply that the recycler is achieving the required 90 percent recovery rate.
5. Expanding the product scope to include other electronic equipment
There is considerable confusion about the type of e-waste accepted and not accepted through the NTCRS. There are still many potentially harmful substances in electronic products that are ending up in landfill.
MRI E-cycle Solutions proposes the immediate inclusion of television peripherals and accessories (set-top boxes, DVD, CD and Blue-ray players and all other devices that are designed to extend the function and performance of televisions); audio visual/stereo equipment (speakers, CD players, amplifiers, video/digital and still cameras); routers and modems and other wireless telecommunications devices, excluding mobile phones and their accessories.
Other equipment such as self-check-out equipment/scanners, gambling equipment and UPS should also be covered by the NTCRS.
More broadly, MRI E-cycle Solutions believes that the NTCRS product scope should harmonise with the same categories addressed by the EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment.
6. Banning e-waste from landfills
Prohibiting the disposal of all electrical and electronic products (including batteries) from landfills in Australia is a vital step towards maximising resource recovery rates and more safely managing hazardous substances.
MRI E-cycle Solutions supports the banning of e-waste from all landfills in Australia. Such a ban will also directly contribute to further channelling e-waste into properly managed schemes and programs such as the NTCRS, MobileMuster, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark and FluoroCycle.
While landfill bans are a state government responsibility, there is a need to acknowledge, harmonise and integrate their role, allowing Australia to more effectively manage e-waste.
7. Raising community awareness and education on the NTCRS
Community awareness of the NTCRS is very low. There has been no widespread consistent promotion of the service to the community. Rather it has been a series of disjointed promotions of local services by each arrangement and listing of collection sites on arrangement websites and Planet Ark’s recyclingnearyou.com.au website.
The regulation provides little guidance on how and by whom the Scheme should be promoted, nor does it foster collaboration and investment of resources into a clear and consistent message by all stakeholders in promoting the Scheme.
MRI E-cycle Solutions recommends a centrally coordinated approach to raising community awareness and educating the community about the Scheme using uniform messaging. This ideally would involve co-regulatory arrangements working collaboratively and sharing the costs with the Federal Government to achieve an agreed level of community awareness over time.
A more detailed submission from MRI E-cycle Solutions will be provided in response to the ongoing review process.
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Image: pnphoto / 123RF Stock Photo