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Publications archive - Waste and recycling


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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

7. International Approaches

There have been few regulations implemented by international governments which deal specifically with computer and peripheral materials, although some have been established which deal with generic waste electrical and electronic equipment. However there are some voluntary programs which have been initiated by statutory authorities working in conjunction with industry alliances. A number of ICT manufacturers (many of which have Australian subsidiaries) have also implemented activities in response to the environmental impact of their products.

These initiatives range from product stewardship and extended producer responsibility activities through to waste management and recycling issues. These are discussed in the following sections.

7.1 Regulations, Policies & Programs

7.1.1 OECD

The OECD has issued guidelines entitled Environmentally Sound Management of Used and Scrap Personal Computers (PCs) for use by OECD member countries (including Australia). The guidelines focus on reuse and recovery of used PCs and their constituent materials, but do not address other environmental issues such as product design, choice of materials and energy efficiency. The guidelines highlight areas such as substances of concern in reuse/recovery and disposal activities, facility requirements (including energy recovery) and transport.

The movement of materials found in computers and peripheral equipment between OECD countries is controlled under Council Decision C(92)39/FINAL, Decision of the Council concerning the Control of Transfrontier Movements of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations. Metal and metal-alloy wastes (including electronic scrap) and solid plastic wastes are classified as "Green" tier items, and movement of materials is not subject to additional OECD controls above those excisting controls normally applied in commercial transactions. Glass from CRTs and used batteries are classified as "Amber" tier materials, and require that written consent is provided by responsible authorities before movement of materials may occur.

7.1.2 Europe

In June 2000 the Commission of European Communities proposed establishment of a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment and a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment.

The Directives are currently waiting on development of a common position by the European Council, and will soon be read for a second time in the European Parliament. The Directives incorporate the following objectives:

The Directives have provided impetus for some European countries to initiate activities within their own national jurisdiction. Those countries with legislation on WEEE include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden. Finland and Germany are expected to introduce legislation soon.

Much of this European legislation deals with white goods, brown goods and lighting, with less focus on computers. Those countries with excisting regulations which also encompass computer waste include the following:

The Directives have also provided impetus for industry bodies to liaise with Government on implementation issues. The Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER) is liaising with UK Government agencies on issues such as recovery targets, the scope of the Directive, pre-treatment procedures, financing options, collection mechanisms and implications for electronic commerce. ICER has also established voluntary accreditation schemes for WEEE recyclers and refurbishers in anticipation of changing requirements under the Directives.

A system of endorsement of environmentally responsible products has been established in some European countries, with relevant products receiving labels which allow marketing of environmental credentials. Some PCs have received endorsement under the schemes outlined below.

The Blue Angel mark has established criteria for a range of computer and peripheral equipment, including:

The criteria differs for each type of equipment but addresses issues including the following:

The Blue Angel mark is cited by a number of international computer manufacturers on their web-sites as an environmental benchmark that a number of their products meet. The importance placed on this in the purchasing decisions of their customers is not known, however industry feedback suggests that it is well-regarded. The Blue Angel criteria are provided in Appendix D.

In the UK, ICER has initiated a number of programs in its role as a voluntary industry association. One of its major initiatives is the establishment of best practice guidelines for recyclers of electronic and electrical equipment. This is intended to lead to an accreditation scheme for recyclers. The broad guidelines being developed by ICER for this scheme are outlined below.

ICER: Requirements for Best Practice

  • Appropriate licences or exemption certificates for all sites in accordance with waste regulations. Use of waste transfer notes and authorised transport operators.
  • An audit trail which shows what happens to products, their components and materials throughout the recycling process. This will require detailed records and must be supported by a mass balance (i.e. a total weight of products in = total weight of resulting materials/components/products streams.
  • A method statement which clearly sets out procedures to be followed, in particular those for identifying, handling and disposing of any hazardous material within the feedstock.
  • Safe working practices, e.g. operators to be provided with safety clothing, workplace monitored for dust and fumes.
  • Proper attention to process effluents (to land, water or air), including clear identification, notification on the audit trail, and appropriate disposal.
  • Proper classification and disposal of any waste from their processes (e.g. controlled waste, special waste).
  • Correct disposal of wastes to appropriately licensed sites.
  • Testing of equipment before resale to ensure it complies with legislation.

Where subcontractors are used, companies must identify them and be able to demonstrate that those subcontractors also operate to the standards set out above.

In addition to these operating standards, best practice should also include:

  • innovative initiatives, such as designing new products made from recycled components or materials, or redesigning or modifying products to correct service faults;
  • proactive work with manufacturers to influence the design process;
  • improved recycling processes that address environmental issues;
  • investment in recycling research and development; and
  • operating efficiently in terms of the ratio of material or energy recovered from the

Source: ICER 2001

7.1.3 Asia

While there are no regulations in Japan which specifically address computers and peripheral materials, other affiliated legislation addressing electrical appliances and recycling has been established.

An overarching Law for the Promotion of Utilisation of Recycled Resources was enacted in 1991 to indicate a standard for both the use of recycled materials by domestic manufacturers and provision for ease of recycling in product design (e.g. removal of NiCd batteries from PCs). A Basic Law for Establishing a Recycling-based Society was approved by Cabinet in June 2000 as an overarching framework for more specific laws.

The Law for Recycling of Specified Kinds of Home Appliances (effective as of April 2001) obligates Japanese manufacturers, retailers and consumers to share the cost of disposing of televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners. Manufacturers are required to meet designated recycling rates for each product, and to safely dispose of any hazardous materials.

Larger manufacturers have set consistent prices for take-back of goods, and established recycling plants to handle both materials covered by the Act and other electronic goods. Retailers are obliged to pick up discarded appliances and return them to manufacturers, with consumers contributing towards the cost of transportation and recycling.

Whilst previous arrangements allowed consumers to dispose of equipment for free or for a small fee, whereas reported costs range from 500 up to 7,000 depending on prices set by retailers and local governments. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the change in post-use product flows has resulted in a short-term impact on the viability of excisting recycling firms, and a decline in purchasing after the law came into effect. There is a risk of illegal dumping to avoid paying additional costs. The law has also been criticised for a lack of mechanisms to motivate consumers to obey the law. The law does not specify PCs, however some manufacturers anticipate the expansion of the law to include them in future.

The Japan Environment Association (JEA) administers the Eco-Mark labelling program under the authority of the Environment Agency. Certification criteria for computers were released in 2000 and include design for recycling, take-back and recycling provision, elimination of hazardous substances, and energy conservation. There have been 7 personal computer products from 3 manufacturers certified since the criteria were introduced.

Similar requirements came into force in Taiwan in 1998, where product take-back of personal computer equipment from business and consumer customers is handled through the government-created Environmental Protection Administration Recycling Management Fund. The fund consists of recycling fees paid by computer manufacturers (e.g. IBM Korea).

7.1.4 North America

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) administers a raft of programs oriented towards minimising the environmental risks arising from both the manufacture and disposal of computers and peripheral equipment, through the Common Sense Initiative, Design for Environment (DfE) and Waste Wise programs. Projects related specifically to computers include the following.

Disposal of some computer materials (e.g. Ni-Cd batteries) is regulated under the Universal Waste Rule issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1995. This rule is designed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste items in the municipal solid waste stream, encourage recycling and proper disposal of certain common hazardous wastes, and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes.

Individual States have adopted their own directions on the management of waste computers and peripheral material. Massachusetts declared by State rule that unbroken CRTs are not hazardous waste, however the US EPA disagree with this interpretation for being less stringent than federal legislation requirements. Florida's stance is that CRTs are and remain hazardous wastes when deposited to landfill or combusted in waste incinerators; they are not hazardous wastes when reused as a substitute for commercial products (e.g. glass for new CRTs or as a fluxing agent in secondary lead smelters). California has determined that only hazardous waste disposal facilities should legally accept CRTs, and that disposal by excisting collection and recycling facilities is illegal; it has therefore introduced emergency regulations to address CRT disposal. Other States are expected to introduce laws, policies or programs for the management of waste computers and peripheral material soon.

The US EPA is expected to publish another regulation shortly, entitled CRT Glass-to-Glass Rulemaking (the Glass-to-Glass Rule). This is expected to reduce some of the controls on CRTs that are transported for recycling into new CRT glass. Its purpose is to reduce the cost of CRT recycling and encourage the recycling of used CRT glass.

While there are no Canadian regulations currently in place which deal with waste computer equipment, Environment Canada has commissioned a study to investigate the issue. The report, Information Technology and Telecommunication Waste in Canada (Environment Canada 2000), includes baseline estimates of the scope of the problem, excisting Canadian recycling activities and initiatives taken around the world to address information technology waste.

A number of municipalities, particularly within Ontario, accept waste computers and peripheral equipment at their waste recovery operations. The majority of these operations are drop-off centres, however regional take-back programs have been established in two Ontario municipalities.

The Canadian Environmental Choice program has certified some printers and printing cartridges as eligible to display the Environmental Choice label ( Criteria for certification includes requirements with regard to:

7.2 Industry Initiatives

7.2.1 International Manufacturers

Key international manufacturers producing computers and peripheral equipment have implemented a range of programs to reduce the environmental impact of their products. These programs vary between geographic regions due to differences in local regulatory requirements, customer demand and opportunities for diversion.

Product stewardship initiatives instigated by the top manufacturers of computers and peripheral equipment are outlined below. This includes the top ten manufacturers of computer equipment on a worldwide basis (as identified by IDC Australia), together with an additional four companies who are market leaders in peripheral equipment (viz. printers, cartridges). Initiatives outlined below are based on information provided by the manufacturer or available in the public arena.

Apple has shown an early interest in the environmental performance of their products, commencing with an internal review of a particular model of computer (the Power Macintosh 7200) in 1995-96. Performance of the computer was assessed against the criteria of energy conservation, ease of disassembly, separability, recyclability, upgradability, hazardous constituents, material conservation, common components, ease of assembly, ease of service and product economics. This review found that enhancement of environmental performance was consistent with improvements in cost and functional performance, resulting in a higher quality product. It identified potential design improvements which could be incorporated into all Apple computers, incorporating Design for Environment features along with the company's Design for Reliability focus.

Apple engineers now design products to be upgradable to extend their life and to have components and parts that are recyclable at their end of life. Other Design for Environment features established by Apple include:

In the US, Apple printer toner cartridges can be returned to a collection centre free of charge using a pre-paid mailing label. The mailing label is part of the brochure that is contained within the toner cartridge packaging. In Europe toner cartridges for 2 models of printer can be returned to a collection centre in selected countries free of charge using a pre-paid mailing label for that country. For other printer models, toner cartridges may be returned to a local Apple dealer; the dealer then forwards the used cartridges to a collection centre. The used cartridges received at the collection centres are returned to the original suppliers for recycling. Apple estimates that 95% (by weight) of the cartridge can be recycled and utilised.

Apple provides an education focus for clients on its website (, outlining what consumers can do with products at the end of their useful life. Information includes suggestions for donation/recycling of scrap computers, recycling of toner cartridges and safe handling and disposal of batteries.

Canon Inc adheres to 8 action items as part of developing products with a minimal impact on the environment. These action items are as follows:

It assesses products at three stages (viz. product planning, prototype completion, and production testing) based on the concept of life cycle analysis (LCA). This has allowed the company to shorten disassembly times and raise the recoverability ratio of their products.

One model of bubble jet printer (the BJC-620) incorporates a number of environmental features including:

Most of Canon's laser printers have achieved certification under the Blue Angel label.

Canon incorporates sandwich moulding of plastics in production of their equipment. This process involves putting recycled plastic material in between virgin material. The process allows maximisation of use of recycled plastic without affecting the outer appearance; because the recycled plastic is not mixed or heated in the process, the strength and flame resistance of the used material is also not affected. This method is currently being used by Canon in production of copying machines, but is also planned for laser and bubble jet printers.

Collection of used toner cartridges began in 1990 in the US, Germany and Japan and recycling began the following year. In 1999 over 12,350 tonnes of toner cartridges were collected worldwide, an increase of 21% over the previous year.

Collection and recycling of bubble jet ink cartridges began in 1996 in Japan, with approximately 9 tonnes collected in 1999. Cartridges are collected via collection boxes placed in approximately 2,000 Canon retail outlets and service centres throughout Japan. The cartridges are separated into material groups for reuse as plastic or metal parts. Specialty resins used with the cartridge ink tanks are reused in new cartridges; additional resins, metals and other materials are also recycled. One outlet for the latter material is as an alternative to coke used as a reducing agent for blast furnaces. The recoverability ratio of bubble jet ink cartridges exceeds 97% by weight.

Compaq Computer Corporation incorporates a Design for Environment approach, focusing on environmental stewardship during the lifecycle of their products. Guidelines followed by Compaq are detailed below.

Compaq products have earned Germany's Blue Angel and Sweden's TCO '95 monitor certification. Commercial desktop product families are certified with the Blue Angel label and the complete range of commercial monitors are certified to carry the TCO '95 emblem.

Dell Computer Corporation established its Design for Environment program in 2000, incorporating the following design concepts:

These concepts have been incorporated into commercial desktop PCs, encompassing a model range which includes a 100% recyclable chassis with an internal metal frame with a plastic shell. Few screws are used and materials are labelled for ease of recycling.

Dell has product take-back programs in Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. The returned systems are reused, recycled or disposed of (as appropriate) in accordance with local environmental guidelines. In 2001 Dell Europe introduced eCycle, a technology retirement service that included logistics management and data security provisions, as well as compliant environmental disposal. Under the eCycle program, redundant equipment (regardless of brand) is collected from customers, resold, refurbished, recycled or disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.

Dell also participates in a government-run, fee-based take-back program in Taiwan. In 1999 in Singapore, Dell teamed up with the National Computer Board to refurbish, upgrade and provide a year's worth of Internet access for used PCs to be donated to lower income families and charities.

Dell offers an Internet auction site for used computer equipment which has been refurbished. In the US, an online exchange system allows consumers to trade-in, auction or donate old PCs to charitable organisations.

Dell also offers an asset recovery program to large corporate customers in over 30 countries. This system has been showcased by the US Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance as a case study for extended producer responsibility (refer Case Study below).

CASE STUDY: Dell Computer Corporation's Leasing Program

Dell Computer Corporation, the 2nd largest computer company in the United States, is leasing to increase their sales and build long-term relationships with their customers. They have been leasing computers to large corporate customers for 5 years as a way to provide a service their clients were demanding. Because of rapidly developing technology, many corporate customers had 2-3 obsolete computers per desk and wanted Dell to take them back.

These companies knew they had to manage the computers in a responsible way but didn't want to take the expense and staff time to figure it out. The leasing programme, where a company's computers are updated every 2-3 years, assures customers that they do not have to worry about finding the best way to handle the old computers.

Customers pay for the service as part of the leasing agreement. They get record-keeping information from Dell, and do not incur additional staff time and effort to handle disposal issues. In turn, Dell makes sure that the old machines are managed in an environmentally responsible way and is able to provide their customers with service that keeps them coming back to Dell.

Dell uses a modular computer chassis that is built for disassembly, using connectors like snap-together hooks and latches. This design also allows for simple replacement of memory or storage devices during upgrades.

For easier recycling at end-of-life, Dell now uses fewer types of plastics, and marks them with internationally recognised codes for easy identification. The company also avoids using coatings or composite materials that are difficult to recycle.

Source: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

As part of the company's environmental performance communication program, products are accompanied by Environmental Data Sheets, containing information on seals of approval (e.g. Blue Angel), electromagnetic compatibility compliance, material composition, recyclability, packaging material, acoustic performance and energy consumption.

Dell's website ( also includes extensive information on the company's environmental initiatives. Information on the website includes local recycling options and also addresses options for extending the life of PCs.

eMachines Inc does not operate in Australia but is one of the top five computer manufacturers in the USA. It does not provide any information on the environmental impact of its equipment or measures taken to ameliorate it.

One of the key design features of equipment produced by the Seiko Epson Corporation is resource saving, including savings in power, space and time. This results in equipment of smaller size, lighter weight and lower power consumption, however there is no evidence that this results from an environmental focus. There is no company information to show that any product stewardship initiatives have been undertaken.

In 1997 Fujitsu assessed the environmental performance of over 200 products manufactured in Japan, including computers and printers. The assessment criteria included:

From this assessment an Environmental Consciousness Product Evaluation Standard was developed. This standard formed the basis for the development of some of their products to conform to the principles encompassed in the standard, viz.:

The Fujitsu Recycle System was also established in Japan in 1997. The system consists of a series of 13 collection terminals and 4 recycling centres which accept waste electronic products from Fujitsu sales offices throughout Japan. The recycling centres undertake disassembly and separation of waste products, including crushing of CRT glass and extraction of precious metals.

Gateway has not yet incorporated product stewardship into company operations.

It has a limited program in place in the US for recycling of old computers. The company has a trade-in program whereby a discount on the purchase of a new Gateway PC is provided to individuals who donate or recycle their old PC (regardless of manufacturer). The discount allowable is based on an agreed value of the particular equipment, up to a maximum of US$50.

By preference Gateway leaves the logistics of disposal to customers but will accept PCs if customers pack up equipment and send it to the company. It recommends donation of old PCs to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, although acknowledging that some outlets may not accept them. Alternatively the company refers customers to local recycling companies via web-sites which provide lists of US recyclers.

Hewlett Packard has established Design for Environment guidelines for its product designers. These are detailed below:

The company has PC product end-of-life return programs in place in a number of countries, with equipment donated to charitable organisations or recycled. Approximately 19,200 tonnes is reused or recycled worldwide each year through these programs, representing approximately 98% of all returned material. Product refurbishing centres are established in the US, Germany and Australia.

In the US, the recycling service costs consumers between US$13 and US$34 per item (depending on the type of hardware returned). This requires customers to package old equipment and arrange for collection by Hewlett Packard. This collection service is limited to 10 pieces of equipment, although larger orders may be taken by special arrangement. A similar service is provided in Japan at a cost of approximately 3,000 (or less than $50).

Approximately 39 million toner cartridges have been recycled worldwide by Hewlett Packard since 1992. The recyclability of printer cartridges has been increased through a reduction in the average use of plastic resins (44% decrease since 1992), a reduction in the number of parts used (22% decrease) and the marking of plastic parts weighing over 25 gm with identification symbols.

IBM encompasses 15 environmental attributes as part of its Design for Environment guidelines. These are detailed by IBM as follows:

IBM details incorporation of these environmental attributes into some specific models of keyboards, servers, monitors and commercial desktop computers. These products feature the use of recycled plastic for structural and decorative parts. Plastic parts have integral finishes wherever possible, eliminating the need for paints as well as facilitating end-of-life processing and metal parts have powder coatings, eliminating the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paints. Thermoplastic parts over 50 gm are coded for ease of identification and the number of fasteners and screws minimised for ease of disassembly.

IBM has embraced these initiatives for both environmental and financial reasons. The company has found that the use of recycled plastics in PC housings and keyboard bases can reduce raw material costs by approximately 22%. This led to the development of one model (the IntelliStation E Pro CPU) that is composed of 100% recycled plastic resin from discarded computer parts. The IntelliStation E Pro is the subject of a case study showcased by the US Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance for extended producer responsibility (refer Case Study overleaf).

CASE STUDY: IBM's Recycled Resin Personal Computer

In March 1999, IBM introduced the IntelliStation E Pro, the first personal computer (PC) in the world that has all of its major plastic parts made of 100-percent recycled resins. According to Inder Wadhera, an IBM senior plastics engineer who helped develop the new PC, using all recycled resins "hasn't cost one extra cent." In fact, switching from virgin to recycled plastics made one part in the new unit 20 percent less expensive to manufacture.

The IntelliStation is the first of many IBM products that will incorporate recycled plastics. IBM's Austin facility is developing two models that each contain about 25 percent recycled plastic. "Eventually every division will use recycled resins," Wadhera said.

Because these highly engineered recycled plastics are new, IBM must carefully test each resin for long-term performance and safety. Also, it is harder to use recycled resins in parts of the computer that are visible, or "appearance parts," since people expect their computers to look evenly colored and unblemished. To address the issue of color irregularities, IBM's new 100-percent recycled resin PC is completely black. While IBM is the industry leader in using recycled resins, the company's overall goal for using recycled content plastic is just six percent for 1999. That goal increases to eight percent next year, and 10 percent in two years.

The main barrier to using recycled resins is limited supply. Debbie Horn, lead engineer of the Environmentally Conscious Products team for the IBM Server Group in Rochester, Minnesota, explained that for plastic parts, IBM always specifies a recycled-content resin and a virgin resin, so that manufacturing is not delayed if a resin is unavailable.

Right now, the recycled plastics come from four main sources: one is pre-consumer and three are post-consumer. The pre-consumer source is IBM's own manufacturing process. When plastics are poured into molds, the leftovers are broken off and sent to be reground by an IBM supplier into new resins.

One of the resins that IBM needs for its new PC is polycarbonate. Post-consumer sources for this resin include the large, refillable water bottles that are used in office water coolers, and the shatter-resistant window panes, the type often found in schools. Once the metals are stripped, the plastic from old compact discs and CD-ROMs can also be recycled.

IBM is beginning to explore another source of recycled resins - old computers that have been returned under warranty or through collection programs established in response to government requirements in Europe and Asia. IBM has Materials Recovery Centers worldwide, including one in Endicott, New York, that disassemble old computers and process millions of pounds of plastic. The company is trying to use some of the recovered resins to produce new computers, but they have encountered several problems.

For example, the products that are returned to the Materials Recovery Centers vary in age, and contain an assortment of plastics types. Some of the plastics are no longer used by IBM since the company instituted its Environmentally Conscious Product Design protocols.

Source: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

In the US, IBM's PC recycling service allows consumers and small businesses to recycle the PC of any manufacturer (including peripherals). For a cost of US$29.99, the customer receives a pre-paid mailing label to allow shipment of the PC to an electronics recycler in Pennsylvania. Depending on its age and capability, the PC will either be recycled or refurbished for donation. If the computer can be donated, the customer receives a receipt which can be used for tax deduction purposes (US EPA 2001).

IBM collects used computer materials at Materials Recovery Centres around the world, with large centres in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan and USA. In 1996 over 85% of this returned equipment was either reused or recycled, with less than 7% disposed of in landfills. Reusable PCs are donated to non-profit organisations. Some products are refurbished and resold; other parts and components are recovered and resold to secondary markets, with the residue (such as chips and precious metals) recycled.

Lexmark International's corporate environmental policy includes a commitment to:

Lexmark's laser printers incorporate a power-saving mode, cutting energy consumption by up to 70%, and comply with Energy Star specifications. Printing configurations allow users to print on both sides of paper or multiple pages on one side, reducing total paper consumption. New laser printers also allow use of paper with recycled content and have cartridges with long life. Lexmark printers have achieved Blue Angel certification.

In the US Lexmark has a cartridge return program in place called Operation ReSource which takes back cartridges manufactured by Lexmark, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Canon and Apple. Empty cartridges can be placed in replacement cartridge cartons and returned to Lexmark at no cost; additional mailing labels can also be obtained from Lexmark.

In 1998 NEC established PC Standards for Environmental Soundness. These standards provided the basis for awarding an internal environmental mark (the NEC Eco-symbol) used in consumer information programs. The standards are as follows:

Five models of PCs manufactured by NEC currently meet these standards.

NEC has been recovering and recycling used rental and lease computers in Japan since 1969. In 1999 the company started using plastics from reclaimed PCs in the manufacture of new PCs. Since 1993 the company has also been collecting NiCd batteries via collection boxes at NEC sales outlets. Company statistics show that in 1999 recovered materials from computers in Japan included:

NEC Germany collects computers and other equipment from corporate clients in conjunction with a local recycling company. In conjunction with an industry specialist, it is also conducting research into disposal methods for LCD monitors.

Toshiba has established voluntary environmental standards for personal computers for the Japanese market. The standards include criteria on:

Two models of notebook computers produced by Toshiba currently comply with these standards.

In 1996 Toshiba changed from using sheet metal and moulded parts for main computer units, to polypropylene steel plate which does not require painting or use of ozone-depleting substances. More recently this material was superseded by HIPS plastic resin.

Toshiba has established a collection network for the take-back of televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners, as required by Japanese law. Some recycling of PCs is also carried out in conjunction with this system.

Xerox incorporates the concepts of easy disassembly, durability, reuse and recycling into their equipment design, with over 90% of equipment designed to be remanufacturable. The company estimates the financial benefit of equipment remanufacture and parts reuse (through reductions in the use of raw materials and energy needed for manufacture of new equipment) to amount to several hundred million dollars each year.

The company's asset recycling program is encouraging customers to return a wide range of products, including printers and toner cartridges. Employees disassemble and sort parts from returned equipment for re-manufacturing wherever possible; re-manufactured parts are incorporated into new products. Parts that do not meet re-manufacturing criteria and cannot be repaired are ground, melted or converted into basic raw materials. Xerox integrates re-manufacturing into the same assembly lines that produce new products. The company has set a zero waste goal, with eventual recycling of products to be incorporated in product design (US EPA 2001).

Xerox introduced their cartridge return program in the US in 1991 for the collection, return and remanufacture of toner and printer cartridges. Prepaid postage labels and the packaging from new cartridges enable customers to return old products for reuse and recycling. Returned cartridges are cleaned, inspected and then remanufactured or recycled.

Xerox notes that a barrier to the success of their programs has been the perception of consumers that products with recycled content are inferior to those built from new parts. The company sees it as important to educate customers about the quality and reliability of reused parts.

They have established a number of technologies that enable all products regardless of recycled content to meet the same specifications for performance, quality and reliability. Signature analysis is one such technology used by Xerox. It tests new parts to determine its 'signature', an acceptable range for the noise, heat or vibration produced by the parts while in operation. The same characteristics in parts from returned equipment are tested; only those parts whose signatures match those of new parts are approved and processed for reuse. All Xerox products, new and re-manufactured, carry the same guarantee.

7.2.2 Australian Comparison

Comparison of international initiatives outlined above with the actions of Australian manufacturers (detailed in Section 5.1) shows some disparity in the level of product stewardship activities implemented.

The majority of major international manufacturers are moving towards Design for Environment practices at the initial production stage. While there is some difference between manufacturers in what the Design for Environment practices incorporate, they are generally addressing at least some of the criteria. As product design is addressed by the international parent companies rather than Australian subsidiaries, this criteria is also incorporated into their products imported into Australia. It is therefore likely that many of the models on the Australian market have been designed with a view to environmental issues, however this is not made clear to consumers by Australian manufacturers.

Similarly, the practice of component manufacturing occurring mainly overseas rather than in Australia, impacts on the use of recycled material or equipment refurbishment that is undertaken by Australian companies. Initiatives such as the use of recycled plastic in manufacturing equipment (as implemented by IBM and Canon) are not currently the pathway for obsolete Australian equipment; the recycled material utilised is likely to be sourced from international locations where manufacturing of computer components occurs. While some refurbishment and re-sale of equipment is undertaken in Australia, this is limited to certain models of Hewlett Packard laser printers: this is not widespread in the Australian industry.

Take-back and collection schemes are also much more evident internationally than in Australia. The Computer Asset Recovery Service initiated by Compaq Computer Australia, Hewlett Packard's laser printer trade-in program and the recovery of printer cartridges by Fuji Xerox (refer Section 5.1) are the only Australian take-back programs currently in place. International take-back and collection programs appear to be much more extensive; these have often been driven by legislative requirements such as various European legislation (refer Section 7.1.2).

There is also evidence that internationally the computer industry has worked more closely with other stakeholders with regard to the issue of waste computer equipment. This includes sponsoring programs in conjunction with statutory authorities (e.g. US EPA and Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance) and developing best practice guidelines for recyclers (e.g. ICER). The only Australian partnership project to date (Compaq Computer Australia and the NSW Environment Protection Authority) involved government funding assistance to industry, rather than industry sponsorship.

7.3 Recycling Projects

In addition to programs established by manufacturers, a number of international trials for collection and recycling of computers have been established, including programs sponsored by Government, schools and non-profit organisations. The experiences and outcomes of some key programs are discussed below.

Stichting Computerbemiddeling Onderwijs (SCBO or Computers for Classrooms) receives donated computer equipment that is commercially redundant and supplies it to primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutes for vocational education and adult training. Its mission is to be able to supply reliable machines, in sufficient numbers and at an acceptable price. It follows on from a number of other schemes which have attempted to provide the same service and have failed.

The organisation has identified 3 key elements of its success:

This approach has ensured ongoing success of the program, with few problems encountered. Calls to the help desk average around 14% of PCs installed, and less than 3% of PCs installed have required return for repair (Environment Canada 2000).

A take-back collection trial for corporate computers and office equipment and domestic brown goods (televisions, video recorders, etc.) was conducted in Bilbao between October 1994 and December 1996. The trial was sponsored by the Basque Government and participants were the Municipality of Bilbao, a supermarket chain, the city's waste management contractor, a recycler and a number of other companies financing the storage, classification, shipment and treatment of their end-of-life appliances (Environment Canada 2000).

The trial tested the feasibility of collection of WEEE via municipal recycling centres and established the quantities likely to be received in any ongoing program. The conclusions of the trial were as follows:

At the request of the United Kingdom Government, a collection and recycling scheme for all electrical equipment was trialled by the Industry Council on Electrical and Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER). The trial ran for approximately 2 years between October 1995 and April 1997, and involved two collection methods:

Full results of the trial are not publicly available, however initial results showed that amounts collected were much lower than anticipated (based on the number of participating households and estimated volumes of obsolete equipment), and that very few items (5% of total) were sourced from kerbside collection (Environment Canada 2000).

The average age of collected equipment (15 years) was also much older than anticipated by manufacturers' estimates of product life (Environment Canada 2000).

A number of trials for waste electrical and electronic equipment have been carried out at various locations around the US.

One study undertaken in San Jose, California under the US EPA's Common Sense Initiative modelled a corporate take-back program for collection of electronics through three retail outlets (MACREDO 2000). One of the retailers had significant corporate support for the program and provided funds for advertising the drop-off scheme, hence ended up collecting more than 80% of the total 62,000 pounds of material recovered. It should be noted that the monitors which represented a substantial proportion of the material collected could not be resold.

The material collected is detailed in Table 7.1 below.

Table 7.1 San Jose Collection Trial
Component Quantity(pounds) %Received
CPUs 21,700 35
Monitors 20,460 33
Printers 9,300 15
Other 9,920 16
Laptops 620 >1

Source: MACREDO 2000

The project found in terms of overall costs as follows:

The net cost came to $US18,000 or $US584 per ton. Of the revenue returned, 38% was from resale of functioning equipment and the remaining 62% from sale of materials for scrap.

A comparative analysis was also undertaken to determine the difference in costs from recycling monitors locally in the United States ($US15,000) or shipping them overseas for processing ($US1,500). The overseas options were significantly less at $US142 per ton.

Other findings from the project highlighted the need to support such schemes with awareness-raising and the other flow-on benefits that one retailer reported, with "increased sales due to the end-users' browsing following equipment drop-off".

Another US trial, which was unique in its development approach, was conducted by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (MOEA). The MOEA established a partnership with the American Plastics Council, Panasonic-Matsushita, Sony Electronics Inc and a waste management company, each of which provided funding for the trial. The MOEA called for and received participation by a range of organisations, including Local Government, electronics retailers and waste management contractors.

The final trial program encompassed a number of different collection events, each of which were focussed on the abilities of the participating organisations to undertake. The events ranged from one day to more than one month and were held across the State. Collection strategies included kerbside collection and various drop-off opportunities at household hazardous waste sites, recycling centres, transfer stations, neighbourhood clean-up events, and retail stores. The MOEA and its partners managed the transportation and disposal of the collected material from the 65 collection sites involved in the 3 month program. This method of trial enabled the MOEA to determine the relative success of a number of different collection methods. The trial provided drop-off facilities for electrical equipment to approximately 1.3 million people and collected around 700 tonnes of material.

7.4 International Summary

A framework for regulatory control of computer and peripheral materials has been established in many countries. This framework may not necessarily be directly focussed on computer and peripheral materials but have influence over this area via generic electronic and electrical equipment protocols.

The OECD guideline for Environmentally Sound Management of Used and Scrap Personal Computers (PCs) (2001) is the only internationally based policy and is applicable to Australia (as a member of the OECD). This is focussed on the reuse and recovery of materials and the transboundary movement of hazardous materials, rather than upstream issues.

Many of the excisting regulations are also related to transportation of hazardous materials. However, increasingly policies and regulations are directed at ensuring greater responsibility for the recovery and recycling waste materials and that improving environmental performance of the product overall is adopted by producers.

In Europe, the overarching Directives provide a framework for environmental programs such as free-of-charge return of WEEE, reuse and recycling of equipment, labelling of materials and elimination of hazardous substances. The European Council is still developing these Directives, however, the framework has been adopted by a number of member countries that have made special criteria for ICT equipment. Again the focus of these policies is on managing the obsolete material.

In Asia, Japan recently implemented requirements for retailers to return selected electrical and electronic products to manufacturers, whereas in Taiwan the collection is facilitated via a government-created body.

In North America, there are a number of programs run in the USA, particularly in terms of alliances with industry. However, it is the individual States that have developed laws and policies addressing the issue in different degrees and are particularly focussed around whether or not materials (e.g. CRTs) are considered hazardous or not. The industry programs such as the Common Sense Initiative and the DfE have a greater focus on reducing environmental impacts of the overall product than just at end-of-life.

In addition to regulations, there are a number of eco-label accreditation programs in existence. These are primarily based in Europe but similar programs exist in Canada and Japan. The adoption of meeting the criteria specified under these schemes can be a non-regulating mechanism for encouraging improved environmental performance. Many of the programs have different degrees of standards required, with the German Blue Angel being the most comprehensive to date.

From an industry perspective, the most significant emphasis on overall environmental performance has been through voluntary programs adopted by many of the major companies to incorporate DfE into their business activities. Whilst DfE concepts have been established, these are often not consistent for all manufacturers. In addition to this, there are different degrees of incorporation throughout their operations, with many not having adopted these measures across the board with their products.