The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme is one of Australia’s major stewardship programs involving many stakeholders and considerable investment. One of the key players in South Australia is social enterprise Electronic Recycling Australia, and its commercial manager, Andrew Wallace knows the opportunities and challenges associated with delivering a community-friendly collection and recycling service. Read more …
If you’re like most of us, you’re surrounded by electrical and electronic goods that quickly go out of date or fashion. And what happens then?
Our homes and businesses pile up with unwanted items creating clutter. Australian’s have the fortunate problem of having ‘too much space’ coupled with the desire to have that ‘next great device’.
Australians discard millions of electrical and electronic goods every year – from large appliances like fridges and washing machines, to small appliances like toasters, kettles and vacuum cleaners, to entertainment equipment like mp3 players and stereos, as well as electrical tools and gadgets like drills and hairdryers. Add to this the tonnes of old printers, computers, monitors, copiers and TVs, and millions of mobile phones that no longer work! All you need to do is think about “What old electronic devices that you haven’t touched for over a year do you have sitting around in a drawer or a cupboard?”.
This collective mountain of unwanted electrical and electronic goods is an exponentially growing challenge that is harming our environment. There is a need to ensure these goods are re-used, or properly collected and recycled, due to the toxic and hazardous materials like lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated fire retardants. At all costs, we need to ensure they don’t end up in landfill, where they cause soil and water contamination that is harmful to our environment.
What’s more, the vast majority – up to 95% – of the materials in these goods can be reused or recycled!!
Producers, distributors and end-users of Televisions, Computers, Printers and IT peripherals have a responsibility according to the Product Stewardship Act 2011 to ensure these goods are safely and environmentally recycled (Producer Responsibility). This responsibility has been successfully met under the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) since its inception. The NTCRS enables consumers to recycle their televisions and computers for FREE.
Electronic Recycling Australia (ERA) is one such company that responsibly recycles electrical and electronic goods. Not only that, but the company refurbishes computer equipment for re-sale to low-income earners, students and community groups. (Disclaimer; as an employee of ERA I am obviously biased, but it helps to emphasis the real-life benefits of a Social Enterprise within ewaste.)
The goal of ERA is to deliver not just better environmental outcomes, but better community and social outcomes too. We achieve these goals by maintaining sustainable best practice operations. We consider safety, innovation and collaboration as vital parts of our Social Enterprise Business.
ERA’s successful electronic and electrical recycling operation is an initiative of SA Group Enterprises and Minda, providing services to people living with disability through sustainable employment, and enriches their lives through greater community participation and contribution.
Starting out as a company known as “Aspitech”, Electronic Recycling Australia as it is now called has grown alongside the growth of the NTCRS, increasing recycled ewaste from less than 5 Tonnes per month, to 250 Tonnes per month. A 50 times increase within the span of only 6 years! ERA has been able to achieve this with support from the NTCRS, and the implementation of it’s own collection network of “Unplug N’Drop” sites.
Now that might be incredible enough on its own, but ERA is a Social Enterprise with a triple bottom line.
Out of 250 Tonnes per month, ERA is diverting 240 Tonnes from landfill. That’s over 2800 Tonnes per year, or 2.8million kilograms, or the equivalent of diverting nearly 2000 cars out of landfill. The gloomy part is, if Ewaste does go to landfill you are literally throwing away valuable (and hazardous) commodities that if recycled properly can be re-used or re-manufactured into that next great device that we so desperately want.
The 50 times increase in tonnage does not necessarily result in 50 times the financial benefit, but in seeing this growth our not-for-profit organisation has been able to increase investment in equipment, improve work practices and safety, and the ability to implement the highest standards for recycling ewaste. Every cent made from our recycling and refurbishing programs has either gone straight back into the investment in machinery, or diverted to the community to provide leading care for people with a disability.
In addition to the financial benefits, the growth has resulted in 6 times increase in employment for People with a Disability, and 4 times increase in casual workforce. Through third party verification, ERA’s operations have proven to provide the wider community with an economic return on investment of $6.91 for every $1.00 spent supporting people with a disability in the work place. Just think about those numbers… If we spend $1m per annum supporting people with a disability who are in valued jobs recycling ewaste, the community saves nearly $7m per annum.
You might be thinking “WOW, that 2.8 million kilograms recycled in a year by one company in South Australia is incredible! I love the triple bottom line of financial, social and environmental benefits, so I’m now going to ensure all my Televisions, Printers and Computers are now recycled properly”.
However, what about ALL the other electrical and electronic items? Yes, ERA recycles ‘all ewaste’, but there is currently no Producer Responsibility for items outside of the NTCRS (except for some fantastic voluntary schemes like Mobile Muster). The downside to this is confusion for the consumer, minimal awareness of complete ewaste recycling services, but most importantly there’s no funding to ensure that non-NTCRS materials are recycled appropriately. Due to the nature of how electrical and electronic items are manufactured, it does become a complex and expensive process to ensure that items are disassembled and recycled. The output commodities need to meet certain qualities to be able to be reused in new manufacturing in place of mined virgin resources. The alternative of not recycling ewaste properly is that we end up with another unsustainable problem ‘waste’ stream, like what we have experienced with China’s National Sword policy, which benefits no one.
So where to from here? What can you do to help solve the issue surrounding our growing mounds of ewaste?
- Advocate and support for expanding the NTCRS to include ALL electrical and electronic items under the Product Stewardship Act. Not for consideration in 2, 5 or 10 years, but for NOW.
- Instead of keeping that old laptop in a cupboard for a year never to be touched, consider whether it can be reused by a family member, friend or someone in need. If not, why not recycle it for FREE under the NTCRS and let’s get those commodities remanufactured into a new item!
- Think about where you are recycling your ewaste. Make sure you drop off your old computer or television to a place that recycles them to the high standards as set out by the NTCRS. There are plenty of ways to find a reputable collection site near you, (unplugndrop.com.au , https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/ewastescheme/ , https://mri.com.au/dropzone/ , http://techcollect.com.au/ , https://epsaewaste.com.au/locations/ , http://www.ecyclesolutions.net.au/drop-off-locations/ )
The opportunity and benefit to recycle ewaste is exponential and in line with the growing waste problem. So why wouldn’t we do what we can to ensure all ewaste is recycled?
Social Enterprises’ role in recycling ewaste is important in a growing industry with expanding needs. They immediately invest back into growth, expand employment opportunities, and in the case of ewaste help to reduce environmental harm.
The triple-bottom-line is a win-win for everybody. I, among many others aim to share our values with all Australians to solve our mounting electrical and electronic goods ‘disposal’ problem. Join Us.
About Andrew Wallace
Andrew Wallace is the Commercial Manager of SAGE Recycling. He has a history of innovation and drive, demonstrated in growing businesses that showcase environmental responsibility, employment generation, and wealth creation.