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December07

E-waste in Landfill: To Ban or Not to Ban

The potential benefits of an e-waste landfill ban for Victoria are significant, but its design and implementation must be directly informed by local government and other relevant parties.

 

Adequate Victorian Government funding will also be essential.

 

The Victorian Government has committed to banning e-waste from landfill in  Victoria, and expects to implement a preferred approach by early 2017.  This political pledge at the last State election surprised many Government officials and policy-makers, however its trajectory and intent now seems genuine.

 

Clarity of purpose must underpin the process. A clear and unequivocal objective must drive the proposal in order to effectively engage relevant stakeholders and the community in general. While this will be informed and socialised through the consultation process, the need for The Hon Lisa Neville MP – Environment Minister, to ‘sell’ a compelling vision (and outcome) is vital if we are to see measurable benefits resulting from a ban.

 

Unwanted electronics are a resource that should be collected, reused, repaired or recycled in larger volumes than is currently taking place. That obsolete televisions and computers continue to flood into landfills nationwide is a slight on Australia’s resource recovery credentials.

 

The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), now makes a solid contribution towards diverting e-waste from landfill, as do well developed programs such as MobileMuster and Cartridges 4 Planet Ark. Nonetheless, the electronics stewardship toolbox in Australia remains ‘thin’ and piecemeal. We can all do much more to improve and enhance the current range of e-waste management options. This includes manufacturers, brands, all levels of government, waste management providers and consumers.

 

The rise of powerful and ubiquitous retail chains also needs much greater scrutiny. The presence of free-riding retailers who generally seem to think they are exempt from any meaningful electronics take-back effort in Australia does not help the rising level of  e-waste worldwide. Simply placing collection bins in-store, funded by manufacturers and brands, is a superficial gesture by the majority of retailers. It is also a finely crafted piece of window-dressing that shines a light on PR-oriented CSR programs.

 

Back to the banning e-waste from landfills in Victoria.

 

Discussion paper open for comment

 

To the credit of the Victoria Government, a process has now commenced which features a discussion paper inviting ideas, thoughts and views on the concepts and questions outlined in the paper – Managing e-waste in Victoria – starting the conversation

 

The discussion paper promotes an inclusive approach and enthusiastically invites the involvement of all interested parties, including consumers of electrical and electronic products.

 

The potential benefits outlined in the paper are diverse and compelling. From improved management of hazardous substances and increased resource recovery, through to new employment opportunities, and cleantech investment.

 

The structure and style of the paper makes it informative and educational, while also presenting a diverse range of questions and propositions for consideration.

 

Importantly, the discussion paper was available for feedback which provided ample time for interested parties to consider the paper, the wider issues, as well as prepare a submission. The process is by no means being rushed by Government, and some will argue it is already unnecessarily slow, however Victoria needs to get a ‘ban’ sharply designed from the outset. This requires time, expertise, input and financial resources. We also need to learn from South Australia’s e-waste landfill ban and ensure that we benefit from their learnings – both positive and negative.

 

The Victoria Government is currently reviewing submissions with a response yet to be provided. 

 

Some preliminary considerations relate to:

  • clarity of purpose and intent to ensure clear environmental, social and economic benefits; and how a ban can help achieve a Circular Economy
  • adequate financial resourcing by the Victorian Government, and the private sector where relevant
  • ensuring that local councils benefit from a ban as opposed to being a reluctant enforcer or financial underwriter
  • effective alignment and harmonisation with related instruments, programs and schemes, not excluding MobileMuster, NTCRS, Cartidges 4 Planet Ark,Fluorocycle and various battery-related pilot initiatives.
  • how a ban can trigger positive investment by government and industry, and help shape a more comprehensive solution to better managing unwanted electronics in Victoria and nationally
  • establishing product scope (with clear justification) and defining types of e-waste to be banned and whether an incremental approach is desirable
  • the critical importance of effective information and education to support the ban
  • the specifics of how a ban will be monitored and enforced, and by who; including attention to its resourcing

 

The questions outlined in the discussion paper further prompt what needs attention, research, investment and solutions.

 

The importance of genuine consultation and engagement

 

As with all government consultation and engagement exercises, we will need to see how Government ‘listens’ to what is being shared rather than just ‘hearing’. Genuine consultation that is transparent and solution-oriented will increase the chances of delivering an effective and widely-supported ban.

 

The Victorian Government’s process encourages all stakeholders to be part of the design process, so let us all make the most of it by demonstrating high levels of motivation, innovation and evidence-based input.

 

More information

A copy of the discussion paper can be downloaded via the DELWP website. For more information, you can also contact the Waste and Resource Efficiency team at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning via email:wastepolicy@delwp.vic.gov.au

 

 

  • Posted by John Gertsakis
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