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Computer and Peripherals Material Project

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


6. Regulations & Standards

6.1 Regulations

The storage, transportation and disposal of computer components becomes subject to regulatory control when the materials that comprise these components are considered to pose an environmental or health hazard. Hazardous wastes are controlled though various State and Commonwealth Acts and Regulations.

In general terms the transportation of hazardous materials both between States and either imported or exported is controlled by the Commonwealth Government, whereas intrastate movement and handling of Controlled/ Hazardous materials is subject to the specific State or Territory requirements. The disposal requirements of specific waste materials are similarly dependent on individual legislation and guidelines set by the State or Territory receiving the waste.

A table listing the relevant Commonwealth and State or Territory legislation and policies is provided in Appendix C.

There is also a number of relevant Australian and international standards which provide an industry benchmark with respect to design characteristics of computer and peripheral equipment.

Regulations and standards applicable to computer components and equipment are discussed in the following sections.

6.1.1 Commonwealth

The Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 implements Australia's obligations under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. This Act defines waste as anything to be disposed of, including computers destined for disassembly followed by re-use, recycling, recovery or disposal.

Under this legislation, exports and imports of waste electrical equipment or scrap (e.g. nickel cadmium batteries, CRT glass or mercury) which contain less than 0.5% (weight for weight) of lead or generate less than 1.0 mg/L of lead during a Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test will be considered non-hazardous. A TCLP test is a laboratory test that estimates the potential for both organic and inorganic constituents to leach from a physically solid waste type when it is deposited within a landfill. The test results indicate the environmental acceptability of disposal to landfill of the waste type being tested (recommended procedures for TCLP Tests are provided in the Australian Standard AS4439 Wastes, Sediments and Contaminated Soils). If waste electrical equipment or scrap does not meet the above conditions, then a Basel permit is required for their import and export from certain countries.

Waste electrical equipment or scrap may be exported without a permit if it is destined for recovery operations in a member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), or if printed circuit boards are only a minor component of the overall material. Export and import of used computers for sale and on-going use as a computer does not require a permit if machines are in working order or require only minor repairs (e.g. replacement of broken parts or upgrading of chips), however a permit is required if re-construction of single units from multiple units is involved.

No permits have yet been granted to Australian companies under the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 to export or import computer and electrical scrap under a Basel permit. One company has breached this legislative requirement with the cargo seized in Hong Kong and returned to Australia.

The National Environment Protection Measure - Movement of Controlled Waste Between States and Territories (Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM) establishes a nationwide tracking system for the interstate transport of controlled wastes. The Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM defines 'waste' as any matter that is discarded, rejected, unwanted, surplus or abandoned whether the material is for disposal, recycling, reprocessing, recovery, reuse, purification or sale whether of any value or not.

The Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM provides lists of waste streams, specific constituents and hazardous characteristics to identify whether specific materials are hazardous waste. This is similar to how the Basel Convention defines hazardous wastes. Comparison of listed wastes to the materials listed in Table 4.1 indicates that computers are controlled wastes if the following materials are present and have hazard characteristics such as toxicity, ecotoxicity or are capable of yielding another material which possesses a listed hazard characteristic (as in a TCLP test):

The Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM does not quantify these materials or any associated hazard characteristic. The decision on whether a waste is a controlled waste, in practice, rests with the destination jurisdiction. Exemption from some requirement of the Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM may be given based on the direct reuse of some controlled waste.

6.1.2 States and Territories

It is important to recognise that most if not all of the hazardous constituents listed under Commonwealth legislation will also be listed as controlled wastes by individual States and Territories, either through direct reference to the Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM or a similar schedule of materials. It must therefore be assumed that waste computer equipment may be classified as hazardous material and therefore subject to control within each State and Territory. Despite this basic similarity, each State or Territory has a different approach to the control of these wastes, and may also place controls on particular activities relating to waste production, transportation and disposal.

The regulatory framework for each State and Territory is discussed below.

The ACT's Environmental Standards: Assessment and Classification of Liquid and Non-Liquid Wastes provides directives for the generation, storage and disposal of waste materials created through the processing of computer components. All materials must be classified as either inert, solid, industrial or hazardous waste, however the tables provided to assist with classification cannot be applied to electronic scrap. Case-by-case testing is therefore required, using TCLP and Specific Contaminant Concentration (SCC) tests and the differing levels of maximum concentrations documented in the standard, to classify tested materials as inert, solid, industrial or hazardous waste. Tests may not be required if the production process and the maximum level of contaminants within the material is known, and the waste can be classified without testing.

Generators or owners of waste materials are responsible for producing documentation that conveys the waste classification to transporters and receiving facilities. As the commercial collection of waste from commercial premises requires an environmental authorisation under the Environment Protection Act 1997, certain activities relating to the collection of used PCs may require formal approval.

The New South Wales EPA Environmental Guidelines: Assessment, Classification and Management of Liquid and Non-Liquid Wastes form the basis of the State's waste classification standard, and is similar to that adopted by the ACT Government. Computer waste and scrap is subject to control when the materials tested contain more than 1% (weight for weight) lead and leach more than 5mg/L of lead in a TCLP test. The guideline also defines the waste industry operators who are required to hold an environment protection licence. Waste and recycling operators who transport, treat, process, reprocess or dispose of material that is classified as either hazardous or industrial wastes require licences. Licences are also required for the manufacture or reprocessing of batteries, production of carbon black, and either manufacture or reprocessing of plastics. Operators may be exempt from licensing if they are small in scale (e.g. generating less than 10 tonnes per year and on site storage of less than 2 tonnes). Transporters of hazardous or industrial waste will require licensing if loads are greater than 200kg.

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 requires that waste facilities (other than those used strictly for re-use, recycling or reprocessing operations) pay a levy to the EPA, which provides a financial mechanism to ensure that users of waste facilities pay a contribution to the environmental costs of waste disposal. This in turn influences the cost of landfilling within NSW, as well as providing funds for waste minimisation projects that are administered by the Authority. Changes to this levy to provide the most effective incentive for waste minimisation and resource conservation have been implemented as part of the recent enactment of the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001.

The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001 contains provisions which allow the Minister to make regulations establishing an extended producer responsibility scheme and product stewardship scheme, in which the producer's responsibility is extended to the post-consumer stage of the product's life cycle. The implementation of any schemes would have regard to any national scheme which may be in place and which adequately addresses waste issues in NSW.

The Northern Territory currently does not have any licensed landfill site in operation, requiring all Listed Wastes to be disposed in neighbouring States under the Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM. Works are currently being undertaken by the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment, documenting licensing requirements for handlers, transporters and disposers of Listed Wastes.

The Environmental Protection Regulation 1998 defines certain activities as Environmentally Relevant Activities, requiring site operators to be licensed under the regulation. The licensing requirements are based on the nature of site activities rather than specific quantities or concentrations of regulated wastes. Activities that are likely to affect operators in the computer recycling/ reprocessing industry include battery recycling, as well as recycling, reprocessing, storage, transport or treatment of regulated waste. Transport of less than 250 kg in one load would not require a permit.

The Environmental Protection (Waste Management) Policy 2000 defines principles such as the waste minimisation hierarchy, 'polluter pays', 'user pays' and product stewardship. This policy also establishes a framework for waste management planning by those involved in authorised activities, as well as industry waste reduction programs and strategic waste management planning by Local Governments. The spirit of this policy indicates that the ICT industry within Queensland would benefit from the adoption of a formal set of measurable objectives for minimising waste.

The transportation of waste computer equipment or scrap within Queensland may require a permit under the Environmental Protection (Waste Management) Regulation 2000, as it is likely to contain materials that are considered Trackable Wastes.

South Australian legislation, viz. the Environment Protection Act 1993 and Environment Protection (General) Regulations 1994, is similar to Queensland in that it indicates activities which require a licence rather than classifying any particular material as listed or controlled waste by quantity or concentration. Prescribed Activities of Environmental Significance likely to be applicable to the computer industry include depots for the reception, storage, treatment or disposal of waste, commercial collection or transport of waste substances, and activities producing listed wastes. Exemptions apply for temporary storage at the place where waste has been produced, handling of quantities less than 100 tonnes per year, or an activity that the State is satisfied will involve the production of waste in such quantities or circumstances that an environmental authorisation is not required.

The Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Waste Management) Regulations 2000 uses several acts and regulations, including the Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM, to define controlled substances. Any manufacturing, installation, servicing or decommissioning involving a controlled substance is a controlled activity under the regulations unless it is shown that the state of the waste does not possess the hazardous characteristics described by the Movement of Controlled Waste NEPM. It has been indicated that computer components would not demonstrate these characteristics when in their solid form, and only those stages of waste processing where materials are separated (e.g. recovery of precious metals) may be classified as a controlled activity.

A license is required for the commercial transportation of controlled wastes, as well as storage, treatment and disposal at sites receiving more than 100 tonnes of waste per year. This excludes temporary storage at the place where the waste has been produced. Environmental approvals may be sought to reuse, reprocess, recycle, treat, recover energy or dispose of controlled waste; the information required when seeking an approval is listed in the Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Waste Management) Regulations 2000.

Fines apply to persons who permit or cause a controlled substance to be produced, treated or stored in a manner that is reasonably likely to result in a leak or spill into the environment or cause environmental harm.

The landfilling of waste material in Tasmania will have to comply with the Draft Landfill Code of Practice, which broadly adopts ANZECC levels likely to result from the breakdown of materials within a landfill.

The overarching principles of the Environment Protection Act 1970 include both product stewardship and the waste management hierarchy. In a manner akin to Commonwealth legislation, the Act defines 'waste' as discarded, rejected, unwanted, surplus or abandoned matter, including that intended for recycling, reprocessing, recovery or sale.

As computer equipment contains a mixture of the wastes listed in Schedule 1 of the Environment Protection (Prescribed Waste) Regulations 1998 it is likely to be classified as "prescribed industrial waste". The Industrial Waste Management Policy (Prescribed Industrial Waste) applies the waste hierarchy within a decision framework to assess opportunities for reuse, recycling, energy recovery or treatment of this waste.

A permit is required to transport prescribed industrial waste under both the Act and the Environment Protection (Transport) Regulations 1987. Obligations are placed upon both producers of waste and consignors of waste shipments, including identification of the waste, recording details about the waste or the movement of the waste, and reporting requirements. Exemptions apply if a vehicle or combination of vehicles with a gross load carrying capacity of less than 1000 kilograms transports prescribed waste on a non-commercial basis less than twice in any calendar month.

The costs of sending waste to landfill in Victoria are influenced by the Landfill Levy paid by landfill operators to EPA, which ranges from $2-3/tonne for general wastes to $10/tonne for prescribed industrial wastes. A rebate applies if waste is removed from a licensed landfill or waste storage facility within 12 months of being deposited to enable it to be recycled, reprocessed, recovered or purified by an operation separate from that which produced it. If computers are classified as prescribed industrial waste, then these provisions provide incentive to avoid landfilling of unwanted computer equipment.

Controlled wastes within Western Australia are listed by the Environmental Protection (Controlled Waste) Regulations 2001. Controlled wastes must be transported and disposed of only by licensed companies. Operations involved in the reprocessing of waste computer components are not likely to require permits, however the Department of Environmental Protection in Western Australia has indicated that individual approvals should be clarified in writing on a case-by-case basis.

Irrespective of classification as controlled waste, scrap materials destined for landfill must meet landfill acceptance criteria requirements based on Concentrations and Leachable Limits. These limits are documented in the Department of Environmental Protection Guidelines for Acceptance of Solid Waste to Landfill (2001) and Landfill Waste Classification and Waste Definitions 1996 (as amended). Waste material must be tested in accordance with Australian Standard Testing Procedures (AS4439 - 1997) and directed for disposal based on the concentration of contaminants.

6.2 Standards

The physical characteristics of computer equipment are influenced by a variety of design standards produced by a number of organisations including but not limited to Standards Australia, the International Standards Organisation, the International Electrotechnical Commission and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Standards of particular relevance to the ICT industry relate primarily to PCBs, including Australian Standards as follows:

Whilst the majority of standards refer to the minimum acceptable performance of a particular component rather than specifying the materials used in their construction, some standards provide an opportunity to improve the choice of materials. For example, ISO11469 Standardised Material Marking System provides a framework for identifying plastics used in the construction of a product and is used by several major computer companies to facilitate identification of parts for recovery.

Some standards mention environmental considerations within design (e.g. Standards Australia HB98 - 1997 Guidance on Environmental Aspects in Specifications and Design Briefs for Electrotechnical Products, or IEC60249 Base Materials for Printed Circuits, which instructs designers of PCBs to consider the risk of emission of hazardous substances arising from combustion or incineration).

Information from stakeholders suggests that the current structure of some standards does not reflect environmental best practice, however no specific examples could be identified. It may, however, be argued that the inclusion of more specific references to design-for-environment within relevant standards would assist in the minimisation of hazardous waste from computers and peripheral equipment.

6.3 Summary

Commonwealth regulations dealing with the transport of waste computer equipment are in place. However traditionally there has been some confusion about the classification of waste computers or scrap in State regulations despite there being regulatory framework and guidelines. Nevertheless, as the size of the waste stream becomes more significant there is greater scrutiny being given to this material and the necessary controls for hazardous computer materials.

The diversion of waste computer and peripheral equipment from landfill to other recovery and disposal operations is therefore likely to require approval and licensing by the appropriate Commonwealth and State or Territory authorities. Liaison with the relevant authorities is necessary in order to clarify the requirements for tracking and appropriate disposal of these materials. Testing may be required to clarify whether a material will be subject to regulatory control.

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.

Frameworks and defined principles relating to industrial waste management plans and product stewardship have been instituted in a number of States, indicating that authorities in those States will be receptive to action on the part of the ICT industry to establish a formal strategy for minimising waste.