The Federal Government has unveiled sweeping changes to the handling of e-waste in Australia that will require all makers and importers of computers, TVs and other electronics to sign up to a cooperative take-back scheme.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced the plans at a meeting in Perth.
He said that a new industry-run national collection and recycling scheme - backed by Commonwealth legislation - "will be up and running in or before 2011.
"This is a major development in one of our fastest growing areas of waste which sees for the first time computer and television manufacturers taking national responsibility for managing e-waste, and it will be done at minimal cost to consumers," Garrett said.
All makers and importers under the plan will need to join a Government-accredited producer responsibility organisation or PRO. These have been around for a number of years in Europe and in Australian industry schemes such as the recycling of rubber tyres.
The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has already indicated it "will immediately work with [its] members to establish a PRO that will manage the operational requirements of individual manufacturers in relation to the scheme."
Garrett said the Government would also support the scheme "by ensuring industry non-participants comply with the same standards as industry members voluntarily participating.
"This will ensure that free-riders are unable to gain a financial advantage over those companies that willingly contribute to recycling their own products," he said.
Capturing the industry ‘free riders' "that have neglected end-of-life product stewardship" was welcomed by Fuji Xerox Australia.
"[Stewardship is] something we believe should be the foundation of any sustainable organisation's product philosophy," said its managing director Nick Kugenthiran.
Kugenthiran said Fuji Xerox Australia had "taken responsibility for all end-of-life products, either remanufacturing or recycling equipment, parts and toner cartridges... for over a decade".
He said the company's Eco-Manufacturing Centre in Sydney remanufactured "up to a quarter-of-a-million returned parts and subassemblies" per year. He also said the company took a keen interest in its resource recovery levels.
"[But] while regulating resource recovery is a welcome step forward, long-term we believe that manufacturers should ultimately strive toward more resource-efficient product design and enabling greater levels of product re-use and remanufacture to ensure the sustainable management of our planet's finite resources," Kugenthiran said.
According to Federal Government figures, 16.8 million televisions, computers and computer products reached their end of life in 2007-08, with 84 percent sent to landfill but only 10 percent recycled.
"If Australia were to continue without any form of product stewardship scheme, projections suggest that approximately 44 million televisions and computers would be discarded in 2028," Garrett said.