Hallelujah! Australia got smart about waste and passed the Product Stewardship Bill on 22 June 2011. This really is landmark legislation for Australia and establishes a framework for voluntary, co-regulatory (delivered by industry and regulated by the Australian Government) and mandatory schemes. TV’s and computers will be the first products to be regulated under the Act.
There are a number of E-waste schemes in place around the world. The EU has had the WEEE Directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) in place since 2003, and recently revised their recycling rules for member states to reach 45% of the average weight of equipment on their national markets, eventually moving to 65%. California has an Electronic Waste Recycling Act and Japan has the Home Appliance Recycling Law in Japan.
Waste is a growing problem and landfill prices are on the increase. With such an amazing and growing variety of electronic devices available these days, it’s no wonder that e-waste is in the crosshairs. One statistic I found stated “In 2007/2008 Australians discarded 16.8 million electronic devices, 9 per cent of which was recycled and 88 per cent sent to landfill.” Current estimates for waste are over 2000kg of waste for each Australian, each year. Yikes!
Electronic waste is hazardous in landfill. Contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury and brominated flame retardants are hazardous to human health not to mention their persistence in the environment should they leach from a landfill.
So, this Bill is a fabulous first step in implementing Australia’s National Waste Policy.
From a corporate responsibility perspective, leaders in product manufacture will likely be listening to the winds of change, as bills such as this one are entered into law around the world. New corporate boundaries are being shaped under product stewardship schemes, extending responsibility to product disposal and end of life. Hopefully the trend will shift from recycling to designing out hazardous materials, or designing for ease of recapture.
Now the Bill is in place, E-waste will be the first test and other products will be sure to follow.