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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

2. Overview of Electrical and Electronic Sector

Total Market

Electrical and electronic products (EEPs) noted in DEH's discussion paper 'Developing a Product Stewardship Strategy' (2001) include:

Other related categories highlighted for future attention in the discussion paper include:

An emerging market trend is the combination of appliances into one multi-function unit. This includes fridge/TV or TV/VCR. Although we recognise these are a new feature in the market, we do not anticipate any significant quantity will be entering the waste stream for at least 10 years. The products listed above are the dominant EEPs available in Australia. An overview of issues relating to collection and reprocessing of these products is provided in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1: Issues relating to collection and reprocessing
EEP category Current collection systems Markets for recovered materials Barriers to increasing recycling
Personal Computers (PCs), office equipment and peripherals. No industry wide take-back system in place.

Compaq and MRI trial in NSW.

Commercial lease arrangements usually include take-back.

Dell and HMR take back trial

HMR PC Collection in Brisbane

Recycle IT!

Second-hand market well established for whole units via second-hand stores, recyclers (MRI/ HMR), computer markets, publications such as the Trading Post, and online auction websites.

Various schemes for providing reconditioned computers to needy.

Market for recovered metals (iron, copper, aluminium and precious metals).

Exports to OECD & non OECD countries.
Mixed plastics.

Flame retardants in some plastics.

Toxicity issues regarding processing - lead, mercury.

Lack of co-ordinated collection scheme(s).

Rapid improvements in technology leading to early replacement of functional machines e.g. software driven obsolescence.

Lack of producer/importer/retailer awareness and responsibility.

Lack of community awareness.

Lack of community pressure on industry and government.

Consumers storing products
TVs, VCRs and home entertainment electronics Mostly collected by municipal collection for disposal

TV pilot project (AEEMA, EcoRecycle Vic, RMIT, MRI)
Limited markets for recoverable materials - excepting iron/steel, copper, lead

Market possible for re-used CRTs

Front glass to Visy Glass

Leaded glass to smelters
Currently no overall system in place.

Flame retardants in some plastics

Timber not recyclable

Toxicity issues regarding processing, especially of older TVs containing Polychlorinated bipheryls (PCBs), lead and mercury)

Illegal dumping

Lack of producer/importer/retailer awareness and responsibility

Lack of community awareness

Lack of community pressure on industry and government

Government policies focus on recycling rather than re-use
Major home appliances (fridge's, washers, stoves, dishwashers, freezers, microwaves, hot water heaters) Mostly via municipal waste collection

Can be dropped off at municipal or community re-use centres

Some take-back offered by Whirlpool and Retravision

Delivery or installation contractors may take away old appliances. Sometimes charge for consumer

Consumers may engage independent contractor to remove old appliances
Recovered metals market well developed Lack of co-ordinated collection scheme(s)

CFCs and HFCs in refrigerants

PCBs in older appliances

Illegal dumping

Lack of producer/importer/retailer awareness and responsibility

Lack of community awareness

Lack of community pressure on industry and government

Government policies not directed at upper levels of the waste hierarchy e.g. considerable focus on recycling rather than re-use
Small appliances, including personal care and electrical accessories Collection by municipal hard waste, household waste Market for metals, but metals being increasingly replaced by plastics Virtually no take-back

Increased use of plastics

Low price points and high cost of repairs contribute to churn and premature disposal

Lack of producer/importer/retailer awareness and responsibility

Lack of community awareness

Lack of community pressure on industry and government
Lighting equipment Municipal hard waste collection, household waste Market for recovered metals No take-back

Mercury and lead

PCBs in capacitors in older lights

Lack of producer/importer/retailer awareness and responsibility

Lack of community awareness

Lack of community pressure on industry and government
Future categories
  • electric tools
  • automatic dispensers
  • toys
  • medical equipment
  • monitoring and control instruments
Municipal collection, household waste Second hand market for tools No take-back
Communication Equipment (including mobile phones) Voluntary Mobile Phone Industry Recycling Program (MPIRP), funded by a 40c levy on new phones Second-hand market well established for whole units via second-hand stores, recyclers (MRI/ HMR), computer markets, Trading Post, on line

Market for recovered metals (iron, copper, aluminium and precious metals)
Mixed plastics

Flame retardants in some plastics

Toxicity issues regarding processing - lead, mercury

2.2 Australian Legislation / Policy

State Governments are increasingly devoting attention to the disposal of electronic waste, examples of this include:

A summary of current legislation and policy operating in Australia on a national and state by state basis is detailed in Appendix A.

2.3 Industry Programs

Industry programs have been set up in Australia to address the waste issues caused by their respective products. Details of these projects are detailed in Appendix C. One of the key emerging themes is the widespread extent to which major computer companies offer take-back, reuse and recycling services to corporate or major institutional customers, yet provide few broadly promoted take-back or recycling options for the general public and small business. Conversely in relation to office consumables - where the logistics and associated costs are favourable - there is considerable evidence of programs that meet the needs of the general public.

Appendix C gives a summary of four specific areas of Australian activity:

Collectively the programs and projects described in Appendix C inform the study through a review of their findings. In particular, past and present efforts to better manage electronic waste (e-waste) provide specific detail about materials, costs, markets, barriers, opportunities, institutional arrangements, design and technical issues. The projects also offer useful insights into community education and information, and the imperatives associated with raising awareness and changing behaviour in relation to e-waste.

2.4 Current Recycling Collection Programs

2.4.1 Kerbside Recycable and Hardwaste Collections

Kerbside recycling collection currently takes place in the vast majority of municipalities on a weekly or fortnightly basis. This collection is usually for paper and cardboard, bottles, cans, as well as other forms of packaging. Over 85% of Australian households are served by these collections. On average, the collections yield approximately 3kg/household/week of materials.

While there is diversity in each council service, reflecting local needs, there is also an increasing overall consistency in areas such as bin size, collection times and materials designated for collection.

The value of materials collected is reflected in the price councils pay for the collection and sorting service. Generally, councils are paying approximately $25.50/household/year for the recycling service.

In almost all cases, the materials are collected in a recycling container provided by council to households. The usual capacity of the container is equivalent to 60L per week for bottles and cans, and 60L for paper and cardboard. The service is geared toward small items that are generated regularly (bottles, newspapers, cans, etc.). In some overseas jurisdictions items such as small appliances and toys are picked up using the kerbside service, but this is not a feature in Australia. Councils make decisions about the scope of kerbside services, and whether to add new materials or products. Currently there is some expansion of services occurring to include polypropylene (PP) rigid packaging and polystyrene (PS) rigid packaging.

In addition to regular kerbside recycling services, collection of green organic waste is common in urban areas and on demand, annual or twice-annual hard waste collections are provided by many councils.

Hard waste collection is usually conducted using a rear loading compaction vehicle. In many collections the diversion of steel and other metals is required. This is achieved by using two vehicles. The first makes an initial collection of metals with the second vehicle collecting other materials. Some recovery of the metal in PCs occurs via this method. Monitors and televisions will be compacted and sent to landfill. Fragments from the crushing of glass screens represent a occupational health and safety (OH&S) hazard to collection staff. The cost of an annual collection of hard waste will vary but a cost of $2 /household/year is considered average.

During hard waste collections, scavengers often recover some TVs and computers presented at the kerb. This represents a current reuse path in the domestic sector.

One of the barriers to the expansion of kerbside collection to cover EEPs is the growing concern about OH&S issues in the waste management sector. The Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA) recently introduced new guidelines to prohibit manual lifting of kerbside recyclables (packaging and paper). The trend towards mechanical lifting of recyclables is also evident in other states, and has potential implications for the collection of hard waste and other materials.

2.4.2 Charities

Some charities have direct involvement with computer refurbishment and reuse. These include Computer Bank, and Technical Aid for the Disabled in New South Wales (NSW) and Com IT and InfoXchange in Victoria (Vic). For many of these organisations the motivation is primarily the provision of lower cost computers to low-income earners. The scale of these operations, though impressive, is minor compared to the overall generation of redundant units. Most operate on the basis that units are delivered to the charity. This eliminates the direct costs of collection.

The ReConnect.nsw3 Computer Program is a 12-month pilot program that manages redundant NSW Government computers to enable the computers to be distributed to people with specific needs. The Program is run by the NSW Department of Commerce, Office of Information and Communications Technology.

Six not-for-profit collaborative organisations refurbished and distributed the computers to socio-economically disadvantaged individuals, disadvantaged educational institutions, community groups and Non Government Organisations (NGOs). The Program was commenced in February 2003 and is currently under evaluation.

Larger charities have played a key role in the collection of clothing and a broad range of household goods including appliances and furniture. These charities include the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, St Vincent de Paul, and the Salvation Army. Most charities utilise clothing bins and secondhand stores as their main collection method. Charities that collect material that is damaged or obsolete are often left with the physical and financial task of disposing of the waste.

The policy of St Vincent de Paul on take-back of EEPs is that all products need to be tested and passed by an electrician before resale. This is for safety and insurance reasons. Presently they are taking appliances, however it is on a regional basis only e.g. Metropolitan Sydney have a good system in place, however Broken Hill does not take appliances back at all. The main reason for this is the difficulty in finding qualified electricians prepared to do volunteer work. They accept products dependent on age and quality - some are considered to have such a low value (e.g. small appliances) that it is not worth testing them. This is compounded by the ever-decreasing price of budget appliances sold in places such as K-Mart, Target etc. Most organisations do not pick computers up when collecting from households - only a few in metropolitan Sydney take computers and only when they have arrangements with second hand computer companies. A spokesperson for St Vincent de Paul stated that there is a growing trend toward downgrading appliance take back due to the availability of low cost new alternatives and logistical problems involved in collection and testing.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence has 26 stores in Melbourne, one in Geelong and one in Canberra. They take back all appliances via drop-off bins and a take back service. Qualified electricians test all products before resale - large appliances (particularly fridges) have a good demand. All appliances are sent to a sorting depot in Thomastown. Computers are sent to InfoXchange for refurbishment and resale, and some are resold through Brotherhood retail outlets.

The Salvation Army and Red Cross no longer accept appliances. A spokesperson for Salvation Army said that they were unwilling to employ electricians to test products before resale. Red Cross claims to have issues with both insurance and a lack of space in their stores.

More recently the Diabetes Foundation has become a large collector in association with commercial secondhand goods retailers. The Diabetes Foundation undertakes collection on a house-by-house basis. This is achieved by using an electronic reverse telephone directory to systematically call residents in each street within an area. This then results in a truck collecting from a significant proportion of houses in a cost efficient manner. While not specifically targeting electronic appliances, some are currently collected by this method.

The potential for an area-based collection of e-waste, either alongside clothing and household goods, or e-waste only, seems to be one of the only practical ways of collecting PC's and TVs from households currently available.

2.4.3 Transfer Stations

Many councils own and/or operate transfer stations located in their municipality. These are open to the public for drop off of any goods too large for garbage collection. Many residents and commercial operators use these facilities for disposal or waste diversion.

Throughout metropolitan areas, transfer stations are used to aggregate waste volumes for disposal to landfill. Most have resource recovery opportunities for some materials within the site. In provincial centres, transfer stations are being developed increasingly to replace landfill sites closed due to increased environmental and management costs. Both state and local government have provided significant financial support to establish and upgrade these facilities. Except in small townships, most transfer stations are staffed during opening hours.

Gate fees are usually linked to volume of waste (or weight at some larger sites). A reduced rate is usually charged for items that can be recovered and reused or recycled. Some sites make no charge for disposal of recyclable materials.

Some sites have attached a 'tipshop' where products are recovered and made available to others visiting the site. Presently very few computers and TVs are recovered through this method.

Transfer stations can collect and store the goods and maintain the quality of the goods for reuse as long as there is adequate cover to protect the goods and the transfer station is staffed.

2.4.4 One-Day Collection Events

One-day events are used to collect hazardous chemicals from householders, and may accept other hazardous products including some electronics. For example EcoRecycle Victoria funds Household Chemical Collections (HCC) each month somewhere in Victoria, in conjunction with Councils. In addition to chemicals they accept miscellaneous products including Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries, automotive and mobile phone batteries, fluorescent tubes and fire alarms.

One-day collection events was one of the options for computer recovery that were tested as part of the Sydney Recycle IT! Pilot. The main barrier to the expansion of these types of programs to include electrical and electronic products is their high cost due to geographic barriers and transfer costs4. This is due to the need to ensure that stringent health and safety standards are met on-site, and that all material collected is either recycled or disposed of in an environmentally sensitive manner.

2.4.5 Retailers

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) runs a program to collect mobile phone batteries and handsets through bins in retail outlets (see Appendix B). A new program has also been established by Close the Loop and Planet Ark to collect toner and ink cartridges through bins in Australia Post and Harvey Norman stores.

Computers are purchased through a broad range of retailers. Most commercial purchases are direct from suppliers or through specialist computer stores. Large department stores (Myer, David Jones) and electrical department stores (Harvey Norman, Dick Smith, Megamart) account for a substantial market share. Increasing proportions of domestic computers are purchased directly e.g. Dell. Small computer retailers account for the remainder and most of this market is non-major brand units. The set up in large department and electrical stores is not conducive to the take back of large items such as TVs and PCs. Many are within regional shopping centres with large distance from vehicles to retailers for consumers to move heavy items. All retailers have limited storage space which is generally devoted to new product.

The storage of substantial quantities of returned e-waste is deemed by retailers as impractical and costly. Small items such as mobile phones or batteries are more suited to point of purchase return systems. There is also a higher likelihood that new equipment purchase will coincide with disposal. Computers and televisions are often replacing units that are still operational and are retained for secondary use or passed on to other consumers.

Some retailers offer to remove unwanted large appliances such as fridges and washing machines. This is done either on delivery of the new appliance or through customer drop-off to the store.

2.4.6 Conclusions on Barriers to Collection of EEPs

Major household appliances, computers and televisions that are still in working order, are currently collected for reuse or recycling through:

Damaged and unwanted EEPs are also:

Retailers provide an alternative take-back mechanism for some products, for example take-back of the old item on delivery of a new product.

Barriers to the collection of computers and televisions include:

The collection systems that appear to have the most potential for collection of PCs and TVs are transfer stations, supplemented by charity networks, special one-day events and sorting of products from Council hard waste collections.

One-day drop-off events for PCs and TVs could be used for collection of products in regional and rural centres and remote communities without access to supervised Recycling Centres. These should be run in conjunction with Councils, or electrical and non-electrical retailers with warehouse-type facilities and their own car parks.

While kerbside collection is not the preferred recovery option, Councils could require contractors for hard rubbish collection to keep computers and TVs separate and undamaged for delivery to recovery facilities.

Retail drop-off is not considered practical for most consumers, (size/weight issues and the fact that old products are not necessarily disposed of at the same time as the new purchase), however retailers could also be encouraged to take back old products on delivery.