Department of the Environment

About us | Contact us | Publications

Settlements Header ImageSettlements Header ImageSettlements Header Image

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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

Major Appliances Materials Project

Enproc Pty Ltd
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN: 064254767X

The full document is available as PDF files. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer to view it.

The Introduction is available in HTML format below.

If you are unable to access these documents, please contact us to organise a suitable alternative format.


This report has been prepared for Environment Australia by Enproc, in collaboration with the Centre for Design at RMIT University, Global Environmental Consulting and TJ Waters Environmental Management Consultancy. The report documents the findings of investigations into the life cycle of major appliances in Australia, the purpose of which was to identify opportunities for the recovery of used appliances (and materials contained within those appliances), and to develop measures to facilitate recovery, re-use and recycling. These investigations are referred to by Environment Australia as the "Major Appliances Materials Project".

It is intended that this report will provide input into Australia's "Product Stewardship Strategy for Electrical and Electronic Equipment" (in this report referred to as "the Strategy" or "the Product Stewardship Strategy"). This Strategy will provide a framework for more widespread adoption of product stewardship principles in the electronic and electrical industry, in order to reduce the overall life cycle impact of electronic and electrical products. The Strategy is currently being developed by the four peak electrical associations (the Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (AEEMA), The Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (CESA), the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)). Their work is being guided by an ANZECC working group comprised of Commonwealth and State Governments and wider industry organisations. Industry will be submitting the proposed strategy to the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council (ANZECC) for its endorsement by the end of 2001.

It is anticipated that the Strategy will encompass five initial priority product categories, with the scope for additional categories to be added as developed. The five priority categories are:

It is intended that this Strategy will address all environmental loads incurred during the life of the product including material efficiencies and recovery at end-of-life. This report will provide input into developing approaches to address issues relating to major appliances.

1.1 Why Is Appliance Recovery, Re-use and Recycling Important?

The focus of this report is on what happens to end-of-life major appliances - that is, appliances that have reached the end of their useful life and have been discarded.

Growing waste streams and improved scientific knowledge have resulted in increasing concern world-wide about the environmental, economic and social impacts of the landfilling of end-of-life appliances (and indeed other electronic and electrical products). These impacts are likely to increase in the future as technological innovation continues to reduce product life spans, ownership of products increases and more and more products become obsolete. In response, governments and industry in many countries are developing ways to reduce the impact of appliance disposal through re-use and recycling.

1.1.1 What is Wrong with Landfilling?

Appliance re-use and recycling are considered to be environmentally preferable to landfilling. This is because landfilling:

  1. Results in the loss of valuable materials. Major appliances contain a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, glass and composites. To extract, process, assemble and transport these materials involves enormous amounts of resources. When major appliances are landfilled, all the materials contained within them are wasted. So too are the resources (including energy and water) that have gone into the production of the appliance. In addition, even more resources are required, and more waste is generated, for the production of a new, replacement appliance.
  2. Wastes space. Landfilled major appliances obviously use up land area. While Australia is a large country and there is a perceived abundance of space for dumping waste, land is in fact an increasingly valuable commodity, particularly along the coastline where the majority of the population is located. To reduce transport costs, landfills need to be located close to population centres-but it is near these centres that pressure for land is greatest and where the most productive land is located. The use of increasingly scarce land near population centres for landfills will become less socially, economically and environmentally acceptable in the future. The growing costs of managing landfill are also emerging as a consideration in community and local government decision making. Local governments are now moving to minimise waste to landfill in response to these issues. Consequently, there is a growing need to examine more closely the types of waste that is entering landfill sites.5
  3. Can harm humans and the environment. Major appliances contain fewer hazardous substances than other electronic and electrical equipment. Nevertheless, appliances (particularly older products) do contain various toxic and hazardous substances. These substances include:6

There is potential for these substances to leach into surrounding aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, causing both health and environmental problems. Fires at landfill sites can also result in the emission of extremely toxic dioxins and furans into the atmosphere from flame retarded plastics.8 The presence of toxic materials also presents problems for the future remediation of landfill sites.

1.1.2 Is Recycling any Better?

Recycling is a more favourable option than landfilling, as it recovers a proportion of the materials contained in major appliances. It also reduces demand for landfill space and can promote the capture of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODSs). By recovering materials, recycling can contribute to reductions in resource use. For example, it takes four times as much energy to manufacture steel from virgin ore as it does to make the same steel from recycled scrap. 9

However, recycling does have limitations:

1.1.3 What About Re-Use?

According to the internationally accepted "waste hierarchy", re-use is preferred to both recycling and disposal.

By re-using appliances and appliance parts, it is possible to capture both the materials contained within the product and the value added during design and manufacturing. At the same time, the re-use of appliances and appliance components ensures that fewer products enter the waste stream over a given period of time. While this does not eliminate the problems associated with landfilling or recycling, it does defer them. Re-using appliances also reduces the need to manufacture new products and parts, thereby reducing the total through-flow of resources through society.

The benefits of product re-use are captured well by Tim Cooper in his paper Beyond Recycling:15

A general increase in the life span of consumer durables would reduce the throughput of energy and materials, resulting in less use of finite resources, lower emissions of pollutants... and a smaller amount of residual waste to dispose of as landfill...

The main argument on environmental grounds against increased product life concerns the possible sacrifice of improved energy efficiency... Even so, it is extremely doubtful that improved energy performance could justify replacing a functioning product... It should also be noted that environmental improvements in new models of products are sometimes offset by other innovations... technological change may increase the environmental impact: frost-free refrigerators, for example, have a higher energy consumption than conventional models... In addition, there is no certainty that consumers will chose the more efficient models as replacements, as they tend to be more expensive.

It should be stressed that any such (re-use) strategy should be to optimise rather than maximise life span. Durability should not be treated as an end in itself. There must be allowance for the fact that the gradual replacement of outmoded models may bring environmental gains...

In addition, refurbishment and re-use can have significant social benefits, providing jobs and training and providing lower cost appliances to those who might otherwise not be able to afford them. 16

To summarise, appliance refurbishment and re-use can have significant environmental and social benefits. However, it should be noted that from a life cycle perspective, in some cases it may be better to recycle an old appliance and replace it with a new, more efficient one than it is to merely extend the life of an inefficient product. In addition, it is not always possible to re-use components, particularly in major appliances where safety and hygiene are major issues.

To reduce the environmental impact of end-of-life appliances, it is therefore important to:

  1. Encourage the development of products that can be re-used and recycled, and that contain fewer toxic and hazardous substances.
  2. Encourage the re-use of appliances and components wherever possible and economically feasible.
  3. Investigate processes and technologies that will facilitate the recovery of as many materials as possible from end-of-life appliances, while minimising environmental damage from the recycling process.
  4. Avoid landfilling appliances, and ensure that landfills are properly managed to reduce the possibility for leaching of toxic and hazardous substances that are discarded in landfill.

The purpose of this Major Appliances Materials Project is to develop measures to ensure that Australia continues to move towards this 'ideal' situation.

1.2 Objectives

The main objectives of the Major Appliances Materials Project are to:

1.3 Scope

For the purpose of this report, the following appliances are included in the definition of "major appliances":

Domestic or household type appliances only are included in the study. Industrial appliances are not included.

While the focus of this project is on end-of-life appliances, as specified in Environment Australia's brief, it is important for other life cycle stages to be addressed in the Product Stewardship Strategy.

This report is based predominantly on desktop research and discussions with appliance manufacturers, importers, retailers, and organisations involved in the collection, re-use, recycling and disposal of end-of-life appliances. These discussions did not attempt to solicit the views of any of these organisations regarding product stewardship. Nor were any other workshops, meetings or discussions held with any other relevant stakeholders, such as consumer or environmental groups, as this was outside the scope of the project. 18

The options presented in this report suggest an overall policy approach or guiding framework that could be adopted to reduce the environmental impact of end-of-life appliances. Specific details are not included, as these should be developed in consultation with all relevant stakeholders following:

1.4 Study Approach

This report is based on:

Additional information on the study approach is provided in each chapter, where relevant.

1.5 Report Structure

This report is divided into 6 chapters:

Chapter 1 (this chapter) provides an introduction to the Major Appliances Materials Project.

Chapter 2 gives an overview of the life cycle of major appliances in Australia and includes estimations of the amount of materials entering the waste stream as a result of appliance disposal.

Chapter 3 looks at existing disposal options for major appliances in Australia.

Chapter 4 summarises opportunities and challenges for reducing the environmental impact of end-of-life appliance management, based on information presented in previous chapters.

Chapter 5 presents possible frameworks and actions for minimising the environmental impact of appliance disposal in Australia, taking into account opportunities, challenges, and local and international experiences.

Chapter 6 summarises the possible actions outlined in Chapter 5.

Appendix A includes more detailed data related to appliance life cycles.

Appendix B provides more specific information about appliance disposal options in each Australian state and territory. This appendix also highlights initiatives that are being taken to facilitate appliance re-use and recycling.

Appendix C lists organisations that were contacted during the review of disposal options for major appliances in Australia.

Appendix D provides a brief overview of international initiatives related to the end-of-life management of major appliances.

Appendix E includes detailed design guidelines that should be adopted to facilitate the development of more "sustainable" appliances.

Appendix F contains a copy of the OECD's Guidelines for ensuring the environmentally sound management of wastes. These guidelines may be used in developing an accreditation system for re-use and recycling organisations.


5 Tim Cooper, Beyond Recycling: The Longer Life Option, New Economics Foundation, London, 1994, p.4.

6 John Gertsakis, Stephen Reardon and Andrew Sweatman, Appliance Reuse and Recycling: A Product Stewardship Guide, Centre for Design at RMIT and EcoRecycle Victoria, Melbourne, 1999, p.5; John Gertsakis, Chris Ryan and Clare Hoy, Short Circuiting Waste from Electrical and Electronic Products: A report on electrical and electronic waste in Australia and the implications of extending producer responsibility, National Centre for Design at RMIT, Melbourne, 1996, p.12; Environment Australia, Developing a Product Stewardship Strategy for Electrical and Electronic Appliances in Australia: Discussion Paper, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2001, p.39; University of South Australia, Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment: A South Australian Perspective, report prepared for the South Australian Environment Protection Agency, Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide, 2000, p.25; Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, "Waste Electrical and Electronic Products",, accessed 1 October 2000; Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling, UK Status Report on Waste From Electrical and Electronic Equipment, ICER, London, 2000.

7 ICER 2000, p.22.

8 Gertsakis et al. 1996, p.11; Environment Australia 2001, p.39; University of South Australia 2000, p.2.

9 United States Environment Protection Agency (USEPA), "Recycling",, accessed May 2001; Edwin Datschefski, Greener by Design: Progress Towards Sustainable Design in the White Goods Sector, paper presented to the Toward Sustainable Product Design Conference, Brussels, 1999.

10 The value of a product does not lie only in the materials it contains. Products also have "embodied" value. This value comes from the time, knowledge, energy, water and other resources required to design, manufacture and distribute the product. When a product is recycled, it is broken down into its constituent materials and thus the embodied energy is destroyed. On the other hand, when a product or its components are re-used, the value added during design and manufacture is retained.

11 Environment Australia 2001, p.39.

12 Discussions with representatives from Fisher and Paykel, 27 August 2001.

13 Environment Australia 2001, p.39.

14Gertsakis et al. 1996, p.11.

15 Cooper, 1994, pp. 10-13; Tim Cooper is a researcher for the New Economics Foundation in the UK. He has a background in economics and the environment, and has written widely on product life extension, and sustainable production and consumption more generally.

16 UK Department of Transport and Industry, "Unwanted White Goods: A Guide to Reuse",, accessed 9 April 2001.

17In this report, the term "metropolitan" is used to refer to capital cities in each state. "Non-metropolitan" means areas that lie outside the boundaries of these capital cities, as defined by the Australian Local Government Association.

18 Although the authors did attend a number of the discussion forums on Environment Australia's Discussion Paper in April and have reviewed a draft summary of the submissions that were received in response to the Discussion Paper. Representatives from Environment Australia, AEEMA and CESA have also reviewed the draft version of this report.

19 GFK Marketing Services is Europe's largest market research company and the recognised world authority in the supply of market information for the consumer electronics and electrical industries.