The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development




"The book (The Natural Advantage of Nations) contains a huge range of theoretical models and practical examples of sustainable principles in action. It would be of particular use for anyone requiring objective evidence of the impact of sustainable practices."
Green Building Council Australia





E-Waste Education Course One


Highschool Level

Lecture 1: Techno Trash - An E-Waste Introduction

         

Educational Aim
 

E-Waste typically consists of electronic products coming to the end of their useful life, such as computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, phones, automobile and manufacturing components. The huge range and complexity of component materials in e-products currently makes it difficult and expensive to dispose of or recycle them safely and at a profit. Many of the materials used are of high value and highly recyclable – such as gold and platinum. However, many others are non-renewable - such as plastic - and are currently either discarded or recycled to form lower grade material. The biggest concern with E-Waste is the presence of toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, toxic flame-retardants, printer cartridge inks and toners that pose significant health risks. It is for this reason that international regulations such as the ‘Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment’ and ‘Reduction of Hazardous Substances’ directives are now being implemented. In this problem however lies a significant business opportunity. Companies in Australia and around the world, such as Dell and Fuji Xerox Australia, are taking advantage of such emerging regulations and consumer pressure to introduce recycling and product take-back services as a means of achieving an advantage over their competitors.

 

Learning Points

* 1. A defining element of our modern Western developed society are the electronics consumer products (e-products) and gadgets that fulfil an increasing demand for access to information, easier communication, improved productivity and a more efficient way of life. Emerging from the previous IT and electronics waves of innovation is a cultural trend of being ‘techno-savvy’ – using the latest in technologies in all aspects of lifestyle and business.

* 2. Around half of all Australian households now have computers (estimated to be around 9 million computers), and most on average will spend more than $1000 per week on purchases and services related to high-tech products such as mobile phones, the internet and pay TV.

* 3. Household techno-consumerism is only one part of the big picture – the world economy is highly dependant on fast and reliable information and communications technologies. Businesses make it a priority to keep up to date with the latest in technology to improve competitive advantage through enhancing productivity, communication and information.

* 4. Recent research findings show a dramatic increase in electronic goods use – in Australia and internationally over the last five years. There is also a disturbing trend of minimum re-use or recycling, and E-Waste disposal with minimal or no evaluation of social or environmental consequences.

* 5. E-Waste contains over 1,000 different substances, many of which are toxic, creating significant health risks and serious pollution problems associated with disposal. These toxic substances include lead, cadmium, mercury, and plastics, to name a few.[1]

* 6. With the recent directives of the European Union coming into force on Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) and on the Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), there is now increased pressure to understand the flows of electronic goods in society – from the perspectives of consumer behaviour (consumption and disposal patterns) and product stewardship (design, re-use, product recovery, recycling and disposal).

* 7. Currently, most E-Waste in developed countries meets with one of the following fates:[2]


- Storage, awaiting disposal
- Sent to landfill or incinerated
- Re-used, either second-hand or refurbished
- Recycled at recycling facilities in the country of consumption
- Exported to developing countries

* 8. With very little monitoring of E-Waste there is a need for improving the data on E-Waste types and volumes as this may encourage companies to look to this growing waste stream as a valuable source of resources.

 

* 9. The end of 2006 will see the adoption by the European Commissions of a regulatory framework for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) that aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the properties of chemical substances.

 

Brief Background Information

 

Estimates of E-Waste volumes


- Department of Environment and Heritage estimates that:[3]

There are approximately 45 million major appliances... 9 million computers, 5 million printers and 2 million scanners in households and businesses across Australia of which 2.5 million are being discarded each year. Of these 2.5 million discarded units, 1.4 million are computers; of which more than half, equating to almost 20,000 tons, are sent are landfill


- ‘Australians have purchased over 40 million mobile phones in the past decade... including 7 million phones in 2004 ….and according to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, 1.5 million were returned for recycling’.[4]


- In the US more than 100 million computers, monitors and televisions become obsolete each year.[5] Furthermore, about 125-130 million mobile phones become unused every year, which is the equivalent of 65,000 tons of waste.[6]


- Current projections estimate tremendous increases in E-Waste volumes are still to come: ‘A recent report from the International Association of Electronics Recyclers projects that around 3 billion units will be scrapped during the rest of this decade in the US – or an average of about 400 million units a year, 200 million televisions and 1 billion units of computer equipment’.[7]


- ‘The U.S.-based research group INFORM released a report last year that estimated that by 2005, U.S. consumers will have stockpiled some 500 million used cell phones’.[8]


What is Australian Industry doing about E-Waste?


A growing number of e-product manufacturers - Apple, Canon, Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Lexmark, NEC Packard Bell, Toshiba, Xerox, Phillips, Ericsson, Nokia, AT&T and Sony - have programs that are beginning to respond to the challenge of E-Waste through the re-design of products and processes and recycling programs.[9] Environment Victoria[10] performed a review which scored of the top six computer companies in Australia (which together have 58 percent computer market share in Australia). The companies were compared against best practice and received scores out of 100. The results were:


1. Dell Australia and Dell New Zealand - 78.5
2. Hewlett-Packard Australia - 78.0
3. IBM Australia/NZ - 64.0
4. Acer Computer Australia - 39.0
5. Apple - 31.5
6. Toshiba - 22.0


Environment Victoria[11] listed 11 computer refurbishers and recyclers in Victoria even though there are only two major e-product disassembly and reprocessing organisations in Australia:[12]


- ‘HMR has plants in the US, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane in Australia... While their core business is computers, they also take back other obsolete electronic equipment from industry, and after testing will either resell or reprocess it... Equipment that cannot be repaired and resold is disassembled for recovery of components and materials.’


- ‘MRI has facilities in Melbourne and Sydney... Computers are either repaired for sale or disassembled for recovery of electronic components and materials.’


However, the current rate of E-Waste generation in Australia suggests that not enough is being done and significant opportunities now exist. In contrast to the extensive programs abroad, activity in take-back, refurbishment, recycling and remanufacture of computer and peripheral equipment by manufacturers in Australia is limited. The optimal E-Waste minimisation strategy for Australian industry may differ from that of Europe and other parts of the world, as the Australian Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association discusses:


The highly regulated approach taken in Europe may not be necessary or appropriate here. We have already seen how much can be achieved through voluntary initiatives, albeit with the support of government. What we do need is a much more clearly informed direction from government in developing a framework for managing product life cycles, and a commitment from industry to develop product stewardship programs that are real and sustainable. In particular, we need to engage with those sectors that have so far stayed out of the product stewardship debate, for example automotive suppliers.[13]


The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and Planet Ark Consulting[14] show that companies are already seeing the benefits of moving early to prepare for future requirements:


Computers are getting smaller and lighter and increasingly homogenous in materials and technologies. They are also easier to disassemble and the use of toxic substances is declining with further improvements predicted due to the commencement of substance regulations... and other product design legislation being introduced across the globe. These directives [regulations and legislations], while of significant importance, reinforce what many AIIA members have already been demonstrating in their own company ‘design for the environment’ initiatives. For example, in 1995, some of our members started labelling plastics in their products to facilitate the end-of-life recycling process… AIIA and its members have an ultimate goal of zero waste to landfill.


Selection of Take-Back Programs in Australia


Some of the few take-back programs include:[15]


- Computers: ‘... IBM has a range of product recycling and end-of-life disposal programs in place via Global Asset Recovery Services. In 2004, more than 83,000 monitors, PCs, printers and servers were resold through this program, extending their usefulness. Of the 155 tonnes of old equipment IBM scrapped in 2004, almost 84% by weight was recycled’.[16]


- Printers: Of the estimated 2,625,000 to 10,500,000 cartridges being sold each year, about 17 percent are recovered.[17] Close The Loop recycle printer consumables, such as toner and inkjet cartridges, with zero waste to landfill. Their new process sorts up to 12 polymers types and produces pure streams of ABS and HIPS plastics. Close The Loop is considering including printer and photocopier housings in their recycling operations. Their partners include Hewlett Packard, Canon, Epson, Brother and Panasonic.[18]


- Printers: Hewlett Packard[19] informs of a program that recycles printer cartridges. This program is in partnership with Planet Ark and Close the Loop, a recycling service provider. Up until 2004, the program ‘has recycled 60,000 ink and toner cartridges, and helped to divert 269,000m3 of materials from landfill.’


- Printer/toner cartridges: In 2001 an Environment Australia report pointed out that ‘Fuji Xerox Australia has a program for return of printer cartridges. Customers are provided with a recovery box which is collected by arrangement with Fuji Xerox when full. Ricoh Australia has also recently introduced a service for take-back and recycling of toner cartridges. While recovery of cartridges in Australia is more widespread than these two programs, these services are offered by recycling companies rather than the manufacturers.’[20]


- The Mobile Phone Industry Recycling Program (MPIRP) is an industry funded recovery and recycling scheme, developed and co-ordinated by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA). The cost of administering the recovery and recycling scheme is covered by an AU$0.40/handset levy on the sale of new phones.[21]


- ‘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’.[22]


The challenge of poor recycling rates


Department of Environment and Heritage[23] summarises recycling practices in Australia:


Some metals are recovered from major appliances, but the remaining hazardous and other materials (including lead, mercury and phosphors) are landfilled as intact product or ‘shredder flock’.


Some estimates and examples of e-product recycling rates in Australia include:


A limited survey of 100 South Australian households by Göl et al. (EPA 2000) indicated that 46% had yet to replace their first computer and, out of those that had replaced their first computer, approximately 40% had done so within five years after their original purchase. The majority of replaced household computers identified in the study were either placed into storage (34%) or had been passed on for reuse (26%), generally within the family... The percentages will also differ to, but are generally consistent with, those identified overseas, as illustrated by estimates from studies in Florida (Price 1999), which indicate that of the total obsolete computers in the State, approximately 8% are landfilled, 21% recycled and over 71% are in storage awaiting disposal.[24]


The Government Accountability Office[25] conclude that poor recycling rates in the US prevail because, for consumers, throwing away products is the cheapest and most convenient option.


Some estimates and examples of e-product recycling rates in the US include:


More than half the old personal computers replaced by consumers last year were put to productive use instead of being dumped or stored away, according to a nationwide survey by MetaFacts, a San Diego research firm... The survey, conducted last year, included 7,527 households and 2,500 workplaces around the country. It found that 30.1 percent of household respondents keep their old computers and use them, 22 percent pass them on to friends and 17.1 percent keep them in storage. An additional 8.9 percent donate the old machines to charity and 8.6 percent junk them. Only 3.6 percent said they recycle their old PCs.[26]


Less than 2 percent [of mobile phones] are recycled – usually refurbished and resold to consumers in Latin America and Asia, or disassembled for gold and other parts, according to EARTHWORKS.[27]


 

References

1. For a greater explanation see Gaulon, B., Rozema, L. and Klomp, K. (2005) E-waste, Frank Mohr Institute. www.mohr-i.nl/mawiki/E_2dwaste_99 (viewed 1 May 2006) (Back)


2. Puckett, J., Byster, L., Westervelt, S., Gutierrez, R., Davis, S., Hussain, A. and Dutta, M. (2002) Exporting harm: the high-tech trashing of Asia, Basel Action Network, pp 6-8. http://www.ban.org/E-waste/technotrashfinalcomp.pdf (viewed 1 May 2006) (Back)


3. Department of Environment and Heritage (2005) Electrical and electronic product stewardship strategy, DEH, p. 6. http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/waste/electricals/index.html (viewed 12 May 2006) (Back)


4. Bannerman, M. (2004) Phone recycling claims called into doubt, Australian Broadcasting Commission. http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2004/s1260911.htm (viewed 7 May 2006) (Back)


5. Government Accountability Office (2005) Electronic waste: strengthening the role of the Federal Government in encouraging recycling and reuse, United States Government, p. 3. http://www.federalsustainability.org/initiatives/eps/GAO-06-47.pdf (viewed July 9 2006) (Back)


6. Earth Tones (2006) Environmental Internet and phone company weighs in on e-waste, Environmental News Network. http://www.enn.com/press.html?id=272 (viewed 27 April 2); US Environmental Protection Agency cited in Konrad, R. (2005) Activists push recycling to fight E-Waste, Associated Press in Environmental News Network. http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=7578 (viewed 13 May 2006) (Back)


7. Puckett, J., Westervelt, S., Gutierrez, R. and Takamiya, Y. (2005) The digital dump: exporting re-use and abuse to Africa, Basel Action Network, p. 7. http://www.ban.org/BANreports/10-24-05/documents/TheDigitalDump.pdf (viewed 12 July 2006) (Back)


8. O’Meara Sheehan, M. (2003) The hidden costs of the e-economy, Worldwatch Institute. http://www.worldwatch.org/live/discussion/81 (viewed 15 May 2006) (Back)


9. A summary of the variety of E-Waste minimisation programs, including industry associated programs; company programs; collaborative R&D programs; office consumables programs; and related industry programs can be found in RMIT & Product Ecology (2004) Electrical and electronic products infrastructure facilitation, RMIT & Product Ecology, Appendix C. http://www.deh.gov.au/industry/waste/electricals/infrastructure (viewed 9 May 2006) (Back)


10. Environment Victoria (2005) Environmental report card on computers 2005: computer waste in Australia and the case for producer responsibility, Environment Victoria, pp. 22-25. http://www.envict.org.au/file/Ewaste_report_card.pdf (viewed 9 July 2006) (Back)


11. Ibid, p. 32 (Back)


12. RMIT & Product Ecology (2004) Electrical and electronic products infrastructure facilitation, RMIT & Product Ecology, pp. 40-41. http://www.deh.gov.au/industry/waste/electricals/infrastructure (viewed 9 May 2006) (Back)


13. Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (2003) Beyond the dead TV: managing end-of-life consumer electronics in Victoria: a pilot product stewardship project, Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association, p. 19 http://www.cfd.rmit.edu.au/content/download/59/219/file/

TV%20Pilot%20Full%20

Doc2.pdf (viewed 8 May 2006) (Back)


14. AIIA and Planet Ark Consulting (2005) AIIA: e-waste program development phase: report for discussion and feedback, AIIA and Planet Ark Consulting, p. 9-10. (viewed 9 July 2006) (Back)


15. Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Pty Ltd (2001) Computer & peripherals material project, Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Pty Ltd, p. 37. http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/publications/waste/electricals/

computer-report/index.html (viewed 10 May 2006) (Back)


16. AIIA and Planet Ark Consulting (2005) AIIA: e-waste program development phase: report for discussion and feedback, AIIA and Planet Ark Consulting, p. 8. (viewed 9 July 2006) (Back)


17. Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Pty Ltd (2001) Computer & peripherals material project, Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Pty Ltd, p. 28. http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/publications/waste/electricals/

computer-report/index.html (viewed 10 May 2006) (Back)


18. RMIT & Product Ecology (2004) Electrical and electronic products infrastructure facilitation, RMIT & Product Ecology, p. 48. http://www.deh.gov.au/industry/waste/electricals/infrastructure (viewed 9 May 2006) (Back)


19. Hewlett Packard (2004) An HP White Paper prepared in September 2004 in response to the AGIMO discussion paper on environmentally friendly ICT, Hewlett Packard. http://www.agimo.gov.au/government/enviro_friendly_ict/responses/hp (viewed 6 May 2006) (Back)

20. http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/publications/waste/

electricals/computer-report/waste.html (Back)


21. RMIT & Product Ecology (2004) Electrical and electronic products infrastructure facilitation, RMIT & Product Ecology, Appendix D. http://www.deh.gov.au/industry/waste/electricals/infrastructure (viewed 9 May 2006) (Back)


22. Ibid, p. 14 (Back)


23. Department of Environment and Heritage (2005) Electrical and electronic product stewardship strategy, DEH. http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/waste/electricals/index.html (viewed 12 May 2006) (Back)


24. Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Pty Ltd (2001) Computer & peripherals material project, Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Pty Ltd, pp. 25-26. http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/publications/waste/electricals/

computer-report/index.html (viewed 10 May 2006) (Back)


25. Government Accountability Office (2005) Electronic waste: strengthening the role of the Federal Government in encouraging recycling and reuse, United States Government, p. 28. http://www.federalsustainability.org/initiatives/eps/GAO-06-47.pdf (viewed July 9 2006) (Back)


26. Schoenberger, K. (2005) Many old computers put to use again, study finds, San Jose Mercury News in Environmental News Network. http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=7618 (viewed 13 May 2006) (Back)


27. Konrad, R. (2005) Activists push recycling to fight E-Waste, Associated Press in Environmental News Network. http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=7578 (viewed 13 May 2006) (Back)