The government of Victoria is in the process of considering a total ban on sending e-waste to landfill.
At the same time it proposes to extend its current definition of e-waste to cover any discarded electrical or electronic equipment that relied on a power lead or battery to function.
A recently published discussion paper, Managing e-waste in Victoria, invites input from the local governments authorities, businesses and the public on how to best go about implementing its proposed ban.
Judging by the tone of certainty in the paper’s Ministerial foreword, the ban appears to be a foregone conclusion. It seems the government is now at the stage of simply figuring out the details.
As we’ve pointed out here previously, e-waste is a serious problem not only here in Australia but globally. It’s by far the fastest growing waste stream – growing by as much as 3 times faster than other forms of municipal waste.
What are the Implications of banning e-waste in landfills?
The bulk of e-waste in Australia currently ends up in the hands of municipalities. Thanks in part to high recycling costs and in part to lack of facilities, it’s common practice to send it to landfill.
If Victoria’s ban does indeed become law, municipalities will potentially face stiff fines for non-compliance. As such, they’ll either need to pay specialist e-waste recycling contractors or build and run their own facilities. Either route will involve finding new sources of funds. Presumably these will take the form of e-waste disposal levies.
The ban would also have obvious implications for e-waste disposal at source, especially for larger organisations. Chucking that old fax machine, printer or kettle into the rubbish bin would become illegal. And given the high transport costs of collecting individual e-waste items, it seems feasible that organisations would need facilities to store e-waste items until they’d collected enough to make pickup economically viable. Effectively then, facilities managers would need to make provisions for a brand new waste stream.
To an extent, the broader public and small business should be protected from direct e-waste levies thanks to the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS). The NTCRS is a compulsory product stewardship scheme which forces larger manufacturers and importers to cover some of the costs of collecting and recycling computer equipment and TVs.
Even so, the likely upshot of the ban will be an increase in the costs of e-waste disposal, with consumers, businesses and other organisations footing the bill directly rather than through general rate bills.
E-Waste disposal trends
Victoria won’t be the first state government in Australia to impose an e-waste to landfill ban. South Australia, something of a trailblazer on sustainability issues amongst state governments, has introduced progressively tighter e-waste bans over the last few years. Many items including white goods, TVs and computers are now banned from landfills in SA. Western Australia also has a landfill ban on batteries and light bulbs.
Such is the enormity of the global e-waste problem that foreign governments are tightening their rules too. For example, major electronics producing nations such as Japan, South-Korea and Taiwan, all have e-waste stewardship programs in place requiring manufacturers to recycle 75% of their annual production.
As the onus of e-waste responsibility shifts away from municipalities to consumers and manufacturers we can expect buyer’s expectations and product offerings to change.
Attractive buy back schemes, product leasing and other subscription models should become more commonplace. For example Apple now offers a buyback scheme for a limited selection of iPads and iPhones. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction.
Another benefit of e-waste to landfill bans will be a growing e-waste footprint awareness of on the part of purchasing managers. More on this soon.
Here at EcoBin we applaud South Australia’s existing bans on e-waste in landfill and the Victoria government’s proposals to follow suit. We sincerely hope the Victorian ban becomes law and that the rest of Australia’s state governments adopt similar measures soon.