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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Electrical and Electronic Products Infrastructure Facilitation

Prepared in association with Centre for Design at RMIT and Product Ecology Pty Ltd
Department of the Environment and Heritage, January, 2004

5. International Policy and Corporate Program

5.1 International Overview

Overseas policies and regulations affecting EEPs are rapidly evolving across several key regions. Whereas Europe was once considered the focal point for discussions on e-waste, regulations are now emerging in countries as diverse as Japan, China, Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. Even greater voluntary activity is present across North America in both Canada and the USA. Similar industry-led efforts have also been established in Australia and New Zealand.

Despite global activity however, the EU remains the most intense area of regulatory activity. Various directives (enacted, proposed and draft) are likely to have a significant impact on the production and consumption of EEPs. In particular Directive 2002/95 covering Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Directive 2002/96 covering Restriction of Hazardous Substance (RoHS), will formalise a range of obligations concerning product take-back as well as stringent control of substances historically utilised in the manufacture of EEPs.

Unlike many other waste streams, e-waste has engaged policy makers to pursue effective and sustainable regulatory solutions. From rigid mandatory requirements in the EU and Japan, through to voluntary take-back schemes in the USA and Canada, many state and national governments around the world seem to be giving EEPs unprecedented attention. The most recent regulatory developments have emerged from China, Taiwan and in several Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. These regulations cover key areas such as Design for Environment (DFE) and better management of restricted substances, through to product take-back.

International initiatives and conventions are also targeting EEPs and the associated e-waste problem. The Basel Convention continues to hold direct relevance to e-waste and its transboundary movements, with specific new discussions related to the shipment and recycling of e-waste. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is continuing its work on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) with a view to identifying key areas of future activity. This includes the extent to which EPR is influencing product design and waste prevention. Also at an international level, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently decided to focus on several advocacy projects concerning chemical management issues affecting the electronics industry, such as with mercury and lead.

The overall trend appears to be on increased regulation in the electronics sector across several regions of the globe. Key elements of current regulatory activity include:

Table AD1 in Appendix D looks at national policies for EEPs in The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, USA, Taiwan and Japan.

Table AD2 in Appendix D summarises other national, regional and state regulations, policies and conventions, (enacted, imminent and proposed).

5.2 WEEE Directive

The European Commission reached agreement in October 2002 on the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive to reduce the environmental impacts from end-of-life electronic and electrical products. The objective of the directive is to prevent e-waste by encouraging reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery. As well as to improve the environmental performance of all operators in the product lifecycle-producers, distributors, consumers, and those involved in waste treatment. The aim is to bring some uniformity to the EU member country requirements on electronics collection and recycling. It calls on producers to finance the collection, treatment, recovery, and environmentally sound disposal of e-waste from households and other entities.

The Directive requires member states to:

Producers must set up systems to treat e-waste using the best available treatment, recovery and recycling techniques. Producers may act individually, collectively, or through third parties. Producers must meet specific targets for product recovery.

5.3 Trends in Overseas EEP Legislation

Analysis of the key components of national policies in ten counties was conducted as part of this study. From this, the following key trends can be identified. These trends can be seen in Table 5.1.

5.3.1 Voluntary or Mandatory

There is a trend toward mandatory take-back requirements, however a combination of mandatory and voluntary components, such as legislative backing for voluntary agreements (e.g. covenants), or legislation such as landfill bans to support voluntary agreements, is also popular.

In interviews conducted with major Australian and overseas appliance manufacturers, support was expressed for enabling legislation such as recycling/recovery targets, bans on materials and landfill bans, with the one proviso that there is an adequate timeframe to permit producers to develop their own preferred processes/systems, such as through product innovation, to achieve the targets or satisfy policy requirements.

5.3.2 Bans

50% of countries analysed included either a landfill ban or material bans in their take-back legislation. These countries include the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark.

5.3.3 Targets

50% of countries included either collection and/or recycling targets in legislation. These countries include Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and Japan.

5.3.4 Financing

There is a very obvious preference for financing of take-back schemes to occur via 'visible' levies on the cost of new products. There are variations on this, such as the Austrian legislation which provides for consumers purchasing a new appliance with a voucher for payment of the future waste levy. The value of the voucher is then deducted from the actual waste management fee the consumer pays when returning the end-of-life product.

5.3.5 Collection

The preference in the legislation of the countries analysed is for producer/importer and retailer to have responsibility for setting up collection systems. The type of collection system is mostly left up to the stakeholders however and agreements between stakeholders is encouraged in most legislation.

Table 5.1: Analysis of key components of national legislation policies
Country Legislative status Landfill bans Material bans Targets Financing system Collection method
Mandatory Voluntary Recycle Collection Levy on new products Waste levy Other Council Producer/ Importer Take-back Retailer Take-back Drop-off

5.4 Industry Programs

5.4.1 Corporate Activity

The challenge of assessing how manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and retailers are performing on e-waste is ever present and not straightforward. Competing and often contradictory information can be easily found depending on the information source such as positive news from producers of electronic products, and negative news from activist groups and non-government organisations (NGOs). Establishing an accurate picture can be difficult, as such the aim here is not to identify a 'right' answer but to explore a variety of views and additional information sources in an attempt to identify an appropriate path forward.

The number of individual electronics companies adopting a life cycle approach to their products and services is growing significantly. The active use of DfE methods and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) techniques is relatively mainstream among product development teams within the major Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), especially information technology and communications companies. Many of these are also implementing to varying degrees, some forms of take back programs to recover and recycle End of Life electronic products. Whether through genuine foresight and/or through threat of regulation, the reasons are somewhat elastic depending on the specific product category, geographic region and policy context.

One avenue of analysis and review is to look at what individual companies and their industry associations are presenting about e-waste and their broader commitment to developing environmentally improved electronic products. Often this type of information and data can be found on company web sites complete with annual environment reports and other program summaries.

Forward thinking R&D programs, improvements in operational performance, together with new environmental product and system features are reported with enthusiasm and passion. In some cases, corporate communications can easily expound a situation where commerce and industry is doing everything possible to minimise its negative impacts, and maximise positive environmental qualities and performance. Similarly, industry associations representing OEMs will feature some information about how the sector as a whole is moving towards sustainability. The need to look closely and critically at such information is essential and also applies to how all information about e-waste is considered, be it from companies, governments, activist groups or research institutions.

European globals such as Philips, Ericsson and Nokia represent some of the companies pioneering work on how to improve the environmental performance of electronic products and better manage e-waste. For example:

Japanese multinationals such as Canon, Toshiba, Hitachi, Oki, Fujitsu, Sony, NEC, Brother, Seiko, Epson, Matsushita (Panasonic) and Sharp, are also investing significant resources and effort in maximising their environmental performance. As an indication:

While all these companies present an informative and positive picture of their environmental performance and the challenges ahead, it is often difficult to fully know and understand the degree of 'real world' commitment that takes place across all of their products and operations. Even more pertinent is the gap between environmental reporting prepared for global consumption versus, for example, the extent and availability of e-waste take-back programs offered in specific countries.

5.4.2 Industry Associations

Some of the strongest voices on the roles and responsibilities of industry, emanate from industry associations directly representing manufacturers, suppliers and retailers of electronic products. Key associations across Europe, North America and parts of Asia are vigorous in their efforts to effectively represent their members, whilst also ensuring public acceptance on sensitive ecological and human health concerns as they relate to electronic products and e-waste.

The collective activities and considerable influence (globally) of the Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA) in the USA, the European Association of Consumer Electronics Manufacturers (EACEM) and Japan's Association for Electric Home Appliances (AEHA), should not be underestimated. Such associations have developed a comprehensive armoury of initiatives that cover political lobbying and input to government policy formulation on the direction of producer responsibility regulations, through to specific technical programs and information resourcing of their member companies. Pilot take-back projects, DfE guidelines and case studies, as well as collaborative R&D on electronic products and e-waste, result in a significant and growing level of knowledge and behaviour change.

Industry or trade associations, can be perceived as a two headed creature - on one hand conducting pro-active programs aimed at reducing e-waste, while on the other, fighting a very slow battle that prolongs and defers the realisation of government policies and regulations that might impose stringent take-back requirements. Contrasts abound, as mentioned elsewhere in this report. For example, quotes and passages from an OEM annual environmental report would appear to many NGOs working on e-waste to be mere 'green-washing' and smart environmental communications. Alternatively, for many involved in the manufacture of electronic products (including trade associations), the tone and tactics of media releases from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition or the Basel Action Network, would only serve to antagonise and alienate electronics OEMs.

For some such as the EIA, considerable financial investment has been made by member companies to keep abreast of regulatory developments at a global scale, thus serving product development and EOL management objectives. For others such as the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICEER) in the UK, much effort has been placed on promoting the importance of DfE as a way of maximising environmental performance and streamlining the disassembly and recycling process. ICEER's DfE guidelines are seen as a key tool in support of more effective end of life management for e-waste.