Electronic waste poorly handled in Australia

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has stated that e-waste laws in Australia needs to be strengthened to better handle rising e-waste volumes in the country.
Siegfried Springer, pixelio.de

Scientists at Australia’s University of New South Wales have said that there is poor management of electronic waste in Australia. The management of e-waste lags is based on outdated recycling targets and lags behind international best practices. They have reviewed Australia’s e-waste laws, comparing them to those of Japan and Switzerland. These two nations are leaders in the field of e-waste recycling.

“What is worrying is that our legislation is unable to keep pace with the amount of e-waste we’re now generating,” says Professor Graciela Metternicht from UNSW’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Our recycling targets may have been good 10 years ago, but they are ineffective today. We recommend the targets be revised,” said Mr. Metternicht.

The researchers said that e-waste is being generated three times faster than all other forms of waste. They added that the recycling process is expensive and has led many nations, including Australia, to illegally ship e-waste to less developed economies where dangerous and environmentally harmful recycling methods persist.

The UNSW team analysed four key pieces of legislation, including the National Waste Policy 2009 and the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme 2011, and established “indicators of effectiveness” by which to evaluate them.

They surveyed stakeholders and experts to validate these indicators, and compared Australia’s legislative environment and waste management practices to those of Japan and Switzerland.

The UNSW team identified major flaws with e-waste laws in Australia, even though the recycling resulted in an overall increase in recycling in the nation. The team outlined key recommendations as stated below:

  • The scope of what is considered e-waste under Australian law is not broad enough, and that new categories of e-waste, legislated for recovery and recycling, would reduce public confusion and help meet the objectives of the laws.
    ● There is a lack of clarity over the role of stakeholders including consumers, retailers, and local governments, which are responsible for the majority of e-waste collection. More effective waste management hinges on more clearly defined roles.
    ● There are education and accessibility issues, with consumers in some regional locations in Australia needing to travel more than 100 km to recycling depots or drop-off sites. They say local councils need additional support to improve access.
    ● Auditing, compliance and reporting measures are weak in every stage of the e-waste recycling system in Australia, and need to be improved.
    ● Australia needs to re-assess its recycling target and associated time frame in a holistic manner if it is to address the increasing e-waste generated by our society.

“The current legislation places no responsibility on consumers to dispose of e-waste, and the councils who manage the largest volumes of this hazardous and valuable form of waste are not supported to do so,” said Ashleigh Morris, an UNSW student.

“Australians are the second largest producers of waste per person in the world,” said Morris. “This is a culture that we need to move away from, but until Australians stop seeing waste as an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem, the issues with e-waste will continue to grow exponentially,” added Morris.


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