Australia’s national recycling scheme is role model for the region

Australia has always been ahead of the curve – at least in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region – when it comes to recycling of electronics goods. While most APAC countries are still coming to terms with green practices, Australia has had its National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) since 2011.

The NTCRS, established under the Product Stewardship Act, has been a tremendous success. Under the scheme, manufacturers and importers are required to fund the collection and recycling of a proportion of TVs, printers, computers, computer parts and peripherals disposed of in Australia. Over 900 collection points have been set up across the country, with jobs being created and supported in the recycling and logistics industries.

So far, about 184,500 tonnes of e-waste have been recycled, with a compliance rate of 99% by manufacturers and importers. This volume already exceeds the recycling levels achieved by the European Union, even with the proportion of e-waste to be recycled set at about 30% during the initial years, through to 50% in 2015-2016. This figure was increased to 58% in 2016-2017.

Despite the success of the NTCRS, the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP), the company set up and funded by the industry to manage the recycling scheme, has raised concerns that the growing recycling targets would not be met.

In a whitepaper published this week, the ANZRP said the methodology used to calculate the amount of e-waste does not account for the fact that not all electronic goods will end up being recycled. Some may be exported for sale and reuse outside Australia, while a proportion may go to other parties that offer cheaper waste management options such as landfills, for which no levy is imposed in Australia.

ANZRP’s whitepaper is a fascinating read for policymakers across the region, where people are glued to their smartphones and other mobile devices that have become an indispensable part of their lives. Not only does it offer insights on the thinking behind Australia’s efforts to go green, it also highlights the importance of consumer education, which the ANZRP has singled out as one of the barriers to more widespread recycling.

Apart from Australia, New Zealand and a handful of East Asian countries such as Japan, most other APAC countries have not passed product stewardship laws that mandate the recycling of e-waste. ANZRP’s whitepaper and the policy discussions surrounding the NTCRS are timely reminders for these countries to do more to recycle the heaps of e-waste being churned out each day.