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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Computer and Peripherals Material Project

Prepared by Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Group
for Environment Australia
October 2001
ISBN 0642547734


10. Conclusion & Recommendations

The contribution to the waste stream by ICT equipment has been little understood due to the lack of data and information on the disposal pathways. It is clear however, that the size of the issue has been largely hidden and confusion over the treatment of this material (e.g. whether it is considered hazardous material or not) has not assisted in highlighting the material as a priority.

In quantifying the amount of waste computer and peripheral material, the lack of data at disposal points across Australia was a consistent theme. This gap in information is inhibitive to reuse and recycling operations for assessing the potential to establish operations that may be capital intensive.

Ascertaining information on material flows from the amount of material entering the market place is also limited by the gaps in industry information on quantities being sold due to the competitive nature of the market place. The ABS data used also contained areas where further information is necessary to capture the complete equation. In addition, current data does not adequately reflect the regional distribution of end-of-life materials, which is necessary when determining collection and logistic strategies.

The material composition of the equipment differs from product type to product type, and from manufacturer to manufacturer. The basic composition of equipment does provide materials that have a value if recovered, such as metals (including precious metals) and plastics. However, many of these materials have a negative impact if allowed to enter the environment without proper treatment and handling. There have been good initiatives in reducing the hazardous materials within equipment by substitution and phasing out of certain technology; this should be encouraged further for equipment in the Australian market place where possible through emphasis on DfE principles.

Current disposal pathways for end-of-life equipment are dependent on factors such as (geographical) access to and awareness of reuse and recycling options. The perceived value of equipment at both a household and commercial (company asset value) level has resulted in a significant proportion of obsolete equipment being stored. The storage of equipment can impact on recovery options, with potential for reuse diminishing over time leaving a material value only. To promote the higher order reuse of equipment, it may be necessary to actively encourage users to look for reuse options over storage.

Reuse of equipment by non-profit and commercial organisations, whilst providing a major outlet for end-of-life equipment, could be further expanded. To achieve this, a number of issues need to be addressed such as improving the ability of machines to be re-manufactured through upgrades and ease of disassembly. Many of these features are considered in DfE principles and need to be adopted consistently across the industry. In addition to this, programs to raise awareness of re-manufactured equipment need to be undertaken at all levels, from the householder, commercial areas and Government. To help, ensuring that equipment entering the market is of high quality and reliable could be achieved through industry programs and standards (e.g. testing of equipment prior to resale, warranty periods).

Whilst some markets do exist for many of the materials in computer and peripheral equipment, the viability of recovering these materials is influenced by lack of infrastructure, and labour and transport costs. Again, it is important to ensure that consistent products, both in quality and supply, are entering the market place (particularly for plastics). Industry standards and further research and development will help in raising the awareness of materials and potential uses.

Disposal of obsolete equipment or components to landfill is widespread throughout Australia. However, there is ambiguity about whether the appropriate level of management of these materials is being undertaken. Commonwealth regulations dealing with the transport of waste computer equipment are in place and it is likely that the States will have greater scrutiny over these materials in the future (e.g. licensing and testing requirements).

If waste computers and peripheral equipment are deemed to be hazardous waste, disposal to landfill will not only be limited to specifically engineered facilities but will also involve considerable cost. This will present a significant incentive to divert waste material to reuse, recycling and recovery operations. Transportation of bulk quantities of waste computer and peripheral equipment will also require tracking, which can impose additional costs.

Internationally, strong frameworks for regulatory control of computer and peripheral materials have been established in many countries. This has led to classification of equipment as hazardous materials, hence incurring the relevant regulatory controls. However, there are non-regulatory mechanisms (such as eco-label accreditation programs) in existence to promote better environmental practice. The most comprehensive of these concerning computer and peripheral equipment is the German Blue Angel label.

It is also evident from international analysis that good gains are being implemented by industry in regard to improving overall environmental performance, with many of the major companies incorporating DfE into their business activities. This is still a burgeoning area, with adoption of these principles across the board still to be achieved. Many gains through these programs have a filter-down effect for the Australian market place and should be encouraged. To achieve this consistently across industry in Australia, consensus on the key principles that should be adopted needs to be developed.

The need to set mechanisms in place now is important to ensure that sustainable pathways for material are established. The following recommendations for pilot programs may help to assist in developing a strategic approach to dealing with waste computer and peripheral equipment.

Recommendations

Manufacturers should be actively encouraged to establish a voluntary Trade-in Scheme whereby obsolete equipment is returned on purchase of new equipment. The pilot may involve one or more manufacturers in the program. The mechanisms for this scheme would need to be established by the industry in conjunction with retailers and reuse or recycling organisations.

Establishment of a trade-in scheme can assist in reducing the large stockpile by exploiting consumer perception of the retained value of computer equipment. It can better aggregate potentially hazardous material from computers and provide manufacturers with components for use in refurbished equipment.

It also offers incentives for consumers to purchase new equipment which may not be as environmentally harmful (e.g. more energy efficient, use of hazardous materials eliminated), as well as supporting participating manufacturers through increased sales.

There is a lack of systematic trialling of different collection methods to determine the optimum system or systems applicable to Australian situations. This may involve different systems for geographical areas, or systems targeted to user sectors. A combination collection program would provide the statistical data necessary to determine the most viable collection system in the long-term appropriate to a range of regional and logistical circumstances.

Different collection methods involving participation by stakeholders throughout Australia can be brought within a national umbrella program. Participating events could be chosen to provide maximum regional and sectoral coverage. A national program would provide momentum and promotional opportunities to maximise the participation of computer owners, as well as providing economies of scale for recycling companies involved in recovery of collected computer equipment. This also has the advantage of utilising the resources of organisations who have an interest in waste minimisation and resource recovery (e.g. State environmental agencies, Local Governments, waste management/recycling companies).

There is a lack of information currently available to enable purchasing decisions to incorporate environmental considerations. A project could be undertaken to develop the environmental criteria against which manufacturers could report upon with regard to the performance of their products. Standard reporting criteria would help consumers compare different products against the same environmental parameters.

This could be a voluntary measure agreed to by major manufacturers, pending establishment of a detailed assessment tool (such as an Eco-mark)

Given the widespread use of computer and peripheral equipment in the government sector, all levels of Government (Commonwealth, State and Local) have significant purchasing power. This could be harnessed to provide encouragement for incorporation of minimum environmental standards or requirements for take-back of obsolete equipment by manufacturers and/or suppliers.

Guidelines could be developed through consensus by Commonwealth, State and Local Governments. This would assist all levels of Government to incorporate consideration of environmental performance in development of new contracts and leasing arrangements for ICT equipment.

An Australian Eco-mark could build upon the environmental criteria developed under the two previous recommended projects. This would entail detailed criteria developed by an independent accreditation body, against which manufacturers can benchmark their products. A scheme may initially be established as a product review, then built up to an accreditation scheme.

The scheme would involve establishing a certification mark, development of certification processes, development of a structure for licensing of the Eco-mark, review of new products and awareness raising of the applicability of the Eco-mark to consumers.

A well-regarded environmental benchmark offers significant marketing advantages to manufacturers conforming with the Eco-mark, as well as providing instant recognition to purchasers of the environmental performance of a range of products.

International eco-marks (such as Blue Angel and TCO) are already widely acknowledged in the computer industry overseas. An Australian eco-mark may build upon such international programs or integrate with existing labels.

A pilot project could be undertaken to test the applicability and suitability of recovered plastics to a range of alternate manufacturing processes. Selected companies, identified in conjunction with PACIA, could be approached to participate in a trial to test the properties of recycled plastics and their use in a range of applications.

If initial suitability was supported by more detailed research, success would help to establish viable end markets for recovered plastics.

There is a lack of definitive data on the volumes of computer and peripheral equipment circulating and being disposed of in Australia, with some estimates including a high degree of uncertainty. There are significant gaps in ABS survey data on computer use in Government, education and health sectors. These sectors are estimated to be high volume users of computer equipment.

A pilot project to establish the volumes utilised in these three sectors and their current practices in reuse, recycling and disposal would add significantly to the body of data on computer volumes in Australia. Data could be used as a basis for influencing the disposal practices of these sectors. Given their role as significant users of computer and peripheral equipment, changes in practice could affect reuse and recycling of large volumes of equipment.

Information on reuse and recycling opportunities can be hard to access on a national basis. While much of this information is available from a range of sources, it has not been collated or established within a single information reference source. The establishment of a national reference source on-line would provide simplicity of access to users seeking this type of information.

This could be provided on an existing industry web-site or a stand-alone web-site, promoting environmental best practice across the industry.