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Ten steps to fix E-waste recycling in Australia

A fundamentally sound scheme that needs to be fine-tuned

There are still many local councils across Australia that have missed out on benefiting from the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), and this requires urgent rectification.

There is a role for all of us to help shape and improve the scheme.  Collaboration is key and the following 10 point plan should be acted on in a timely manner:

1. Increase the level of monitoring and enforcement

The level of policing to date by the Commonwealth Government Regulator has not overly transparent, which in turn has undermined public confidence, especially among local councils and social enterprise recyclers. In addition, State agencies and EPAs must also increase monitoring and enforcement of collectors and recyclers to ensure that NTCRS related activities and operations are in compliance with State regulations, licensing and permitting.

2. Introduce collection targets for each State and Territory

The current single figure national target is an economic disincentive for Co-regulatory Arrangements to ensure effective and adequate collections in some States, especially Western Australia where many communities are not serviced, despite the scheme’s Reasonable Access requirements. Collection targets allocated to each State and Territory will positively compel Co-regulatory Arrangements to pro-actively secure higher volumes on a more equitable basis nationwide.

3. Revise collection targets over the next three years

A stiffening of the collection targets over the short-term has the potential to address the current situation of ‘surplus-to-compliance’ volumes and stockpiles. A revised target of 50% to 55% may also reduce the risk of councils having services withdrawn.

4. Mandate appropriate standards in the Regulations

The relatively new AS/NZS 5377:2013 related to collection, storage, transport and treatment of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment should be cited in the Regulations and be a mandatory requirement for all Co-regulatory Arrangements. Independent auditing against this standard is also essential. This will harmonise performance objectives and outcomes as well as raise the performance bar for suppliers, providers and collection partners operating under the NTCRS.

5. Improve the quality of community awareness and education activities

The quality of community awareness and education activities associated with the NTCRS has been superficial at best. More education and less PR needed. Impactful consumer campaigns combined with genuine schools education programs are needed to achieve the desired behaviour change and ultimately meet the increasing collection targets.

6. Increase collaboration between Co-regulatory Arrangements

The Commonwealth Government Regulator should encourage and/or compel Co-regulatory Arrangements to work more cooperatively on servicing regional and remote areas of Australia. Greater collaboration to improve community awareness and common messaging is also urgently required. Greater collaboration focused on involving social enterprise recyclers is also overdue.

7. Increase the quality of public reporting by the Co-regulatory Arrangements

While some reporting and documents from some Co-regulatory Arrangements features important detail and statistics, the overall quality of annual reports to date has been breathtakingly poor and unacceptable under a regulated scheme.

8. Increase the quality of public reporting by the Commonwealth Government Regulator

The depth and detail associated with reporting from the Government needs to improve and expand to provide greater visibility of performance and challenges, as well as flag future activities relevant to the NTCRS.

9. More accurate calculation of Scheme and Co-regulatory targets

A more collaborative approach is required between the Regulator, Co-regulatory Arrangements and Liable Parties in order to arrive at acceptable conversion factors that are recognised by both industry and Government. These calculations must be revised regularly and reflect new technologies and associated form factors.

10. Introduce product reuse objectives

Consistent with the waste management hierarchy, it is timely to demonstrate some measurable commitment to waste avoidance and reuse principles within the context of the NTCRS. The Commonwealth Government Regulator should commence focused discussions with Co-regulatory Arrangements on where and how to best integrate reuse and product life extension objectives as part of future schemes operations and activities, even if this commences with more effective consumer education programs.

Easy and necessary

Adjusting and optimising the NTCRS need not be onerous or process-bound.

Rapid adoption of the above points will not only serve to re-set and improve the scheme, it will allow Minister Hunt the opportunity to demonstrate some decisive action and the required amendments to the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations in response to community and industry concerns.

Anything less would fail to meet community expectations.

It would also overlook the millions of dollars invested to date by environmentally committed IT and consumer electronics companies.

By correcting the scheme in a timely manner, the Australian Government is perfectly placed to work with Co-regulatory Arrangements, Councils, providers and the public to ensure the delivery of a national e-waste program that is environmentally necessary, commercially responsible and socially desirable.