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Computer and Peripherals Material Project

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


Executive Summary

The information and communication technology (ICT) industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Australia is one of the top ten countries per capita using ICT, however the Australian market accounts for only a small percentage (approximately 1.9%) of total worldwide shipments of computers and peripheral equipment. The industry has grown by nearly 12% in Australia over the past 5 years.

The companies which dominate the Australian ICT market are subsidiaries of global companies, mostly of American or Japanese origin. Most companies do not manufacture components in Australia, but undertake assembly of equipment using components produced to their specifications by companies that manufacture specific components (such as printed circuit boards, modems, etc) overseas.

The Australian computer market is dominated by 5 manufacturers (viz. Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Toshiba) who account for approximately 50% of the market. The printer market is dominated by 3 manufacturers (Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard) who account for approximately 80% of the market. Printer and toner cartridges are supplied by the latter 3 manufacturers, as well as local re-inking and re-filling companies.

Structured data cabling of the type used in networked environments is produced and imported by a number of companies as part of their overall cabling supply business. Cabling for computers represents only a small percentage of the overall cable market, which is dominated by supply to telecommunications businesses.

Computers and peripherals amount to approximately 6.9% of Australia's total imports, with these predominantly sourced from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the USA. The quantity and value of imports for all individual components is significantly higher than that of complete computer packages. The number of units exported from Australia is highly variable, although there has been a 30% increase in exports experienced over the past 5 years.

It is conservatively estimated that over 7.6 million computers, 5.3 million printers and 2.1 million scanners are in use in Australia. While there is a lack of definitive data on the geographic distribution of this equipment, various surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that the greatest use is in New South Wales, followed by Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and Northern Territory.

There is also a gap in data on the distribution of equipment across consumer sectors, however estimates suggest that in order of significance they are medium and small businesses, households, large corporations, Government and education. These estimates are based on new equipment sales; when including second-hand machines that are reused, the significance of education and domestic households increases.

Current disposal pathways for obsolete equipment include:

Modelling of industry figures has derived estimated figures for disposal pathways of obsolete equipment. The number of computers disposed of in Australia over the next 10 years is estimated in Table ES1.

Table ES1 Estimates of PCs Disposed in Australia
Disposal Option 2001 2006 2011
Recycled 281,700 494,000 509,600
Landfilled 926,500 1,632,800 1,694,700
Sent to storage 1,331,000 1,792,800 1,839,800
Total already in storage 3,618,200 5,260,400 5,479,700

Disposal rates for printers are likely to be over 1.5 million per year; given the approximate product life of 5 years and its relatively recent market penetration, scanners are unlikely to have been disposed in large numbers to date, although this is likely to change in the future.

Waste toner and printer cartridges are being generated in the order of 2.1 million to 8.7 million per year, depending on usage rates. It is estimated that nearly 38,000 km of cabling of various types enters the waste stream each year.

However it is noted that the estimates for all computer and peripheral equipment are conservatively based on inadequate data, and that the real volumes of waste equipment are likely to be much higher.

Computers are comprised of a range of plastics, metals and other material. Metals include both precious metals in small quantities (e.g. gold, platinum and silver) and heavy metals which may contribute to environmental harm (e.g. arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and zinc).

There are a range of different plastic resins used in computer manufacture, with the majority consisting of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS). Flame retardants (such as tetrabromobisophenol-A) are also used in manufacture of printed circuit boards.

Many of these materials are hazardous materials, and may cause harm to the environment. Substitution of some hazardous materials has been investigated, with replacement at different stages of development and implementation for various materials. The use of lead-free solders and substitution of halogenated flame retardants is more advanced than other efforts.

There are Commonwealth regulations in place which control the export and import of waste electrical equipment. While there are State-based regulations dealing with hazardous material contained in computers, confusion remains about the classification of the equipment itself as a hazardous waste.

Significant international initiatives have been implemented dealing with waste computer and peripheral equipment. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which Australia is a member, has issued guidelines on the management of used personal computers. Relevant legislation has been established in a number of European countries, and other countries (such as the USA) have initiated programs oriented towards minimising the environmental risks arising from both the manufacture and disposal of computer equipment. Many of the leading international manufacturers have also undertaken voluntary initiatives, particularly focused on Design for Environment (DfE) principles or take-back schemes. A number of these initiatives have been conducted in alliance with government bodies and have included a range of collection trials.

Opportunities for environmental improvement in Australia could be implemented in 3 areas.

Additional opportunities include:

Based on these opportunities and the current structure of waste management and recycling in Australia, a number of pilot projects have been identified which offer potential for environmental improvement. These projects are included in Table ES2 below.

Table ES2 Possible Pilot Projects
Recommendation Description
Trade- In Scheme Actively encourage industry to establish a voluntary Trade-in Scheme whereby obsolete equipment is returned on purchase of new equipment. The mechanisms for this scheme would need to be established by the industry in conjunction with retailers and reuse or recycling organisations.
Collection Program Investigate optimising collection programs through a trial of various collection strategies under a national umbrella program. This would test the suitability of various collection systems for maximum regional and sectoral coverage.
Product Labelling and Certification Develop industry criteria to standardise reporting of environmental product parameters; this will allow consumers to make educated purchasing decisions in regard to environmental considerations. Product information could be made available to consumers via the manufacturers' web sites.
Develop Government purchasing guidelines to assist all levels of Government to incorporate consideration of environmental performance in development of new contracts and leasing arrangements for ICT equipment.
Develop an Australian Eco-mark, building upon existing international programs and criteria developed under the above projects. Maintenance of the scheme could be facilitated by an independent accreditation body. A scheme may initially be established as a product review then built up to an accreditation scheme.
Alternative Uses for Recovered Plastic Research and development of alternative products for recovered plastic from computer and peripheral equipment should be undertaken in conjunction with industry groups (such as PACIA) to help establish viable end markets for materials.
Awareness Raising Establish a program for data gathering to help overcome gaps in information for key computer and peripheral equipment markets of Government, health and education.
Encourage information sharing through providing information on reuse and recycling companies on the Internet. In addition, a web-site could offer other environmental information and promote the pilot programs.