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Tag Archives: E-waste

Climate Active

Climate Active certification provides businesses and organisations with the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to managing their environmental impacts and committing to sustainable outcomes. Climate Active is the Australian Government backed program that enables business to measure, manage and offset carbon emissions from their operations or products and services. Organisations can also apply the certification to events, buildings and precincts that demonstrates their commitment to driving voluntary climate action in the growing face of pressures from customers and investors.

The Climate Active certification is awarded to organisations and businesses that have credibly reached state of carbon neutrality/ net zero emissions. The certification and verification process as well as public reporting requirements ensures that like for like businesses can be compared with respect to assessing, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions. 

The emergence of voluntary schemes such as Climate Active are driven by “social license” and responsible business practice. The scheme presents the opportunity to achieve greater staff engagement and demonstrate to customers you have in place a robust climate strategy commitment. The scheme aims to incentivise voluntary action, with the certification assisting the greater community by making it easier to identify brands, businesses and organisations that are committing to making a real difference.

Addressing barriers to Product Stewardship in Australia

Product stewardship calls for companies, supply chains and retailers to take greater responsibility for their services and products across their whole life cycle, from design to production to use and, finally, disposal. 

Earlier in July the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence released a white paper report “Addressing the Barriers: A needs assessment of product stewardship in Australia.” The paper aims to explore and understand the barriers to product stewardship in Australia, investigating opportunities for further development and expansion of product stewardship across the nation.

The paper discusses the major challenge such as free-riders; businesses or organisations that may benefit from product stewardship activity without contributing to the implementation or operation. 

Although not discussed in the paper, the voluntary trend of product stewardship in Australia is also an issue to consider. 

This trend is a particularly Australian phenomenon, as most other countries support regulatory approaches. Australian industry leadership towards product stewardship should be congratulated. For example, the recent announcement of the Australian Toy Association partnering with other leading brands to investigate product stewardship of toys, and the recognition of best practice for Tyre Stewardship Australia are positive developments. 

However, similar to the free-riding organisations, companies and industries who use voluntary as a means to defer, delay or avoid responsibility should be brought to account. 

Voluntary approaches cannot be realistically expected to work in a timely manner where there is no industry agreement and coordination, and where the brand owners are diffuse, have little or no local decision-making authority or are no longer trading. In such cases it at best will be a slow process and many years before some sort of voluntary approach is figured out. 

In general, the need for government intervention is generally greater the more complex the products and supply chain.

For product stewardship broadly to meet community expectations, to reach waste and recycling targets, to discourage free-riders and to support genuine leadership efforts, there therefore needs to be clear market signals that government will regulate when and where needed. 

While the Centre’s white paper correctly highlights key barriers, overcoming them will require the government to act where appropriate to put pressure on industry and ensure accountability, and that includes judicious use of regulatory powers.

Toy Industry to collaborate and develop sustainability solutions

The Australian Toy Association (ATA) has been supported with a through the Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre (CEBIC) delivered by Sustainability Victoria. This is a world first for the toy industry and another example of an industry taking responsibility for its products.

In collaboration with leading toy industry brands and retailers, the funding enables the ATA to develop and investigate circular economy options for toys. The project’s first stage will develop a material flows analysis, building an understanding of the movement of toys through the economy. The results of the analysis will link into the overarching project to develop solutions that will reduce the environmental impact of toys. 

Equilibrium congratulates ATA for their leadership and vision and is excited to partner with them on this project in developing circular economy options for toys.

MMI open for recycling and clean energy manufacturing grants

Earlier this month, the federal government announced a series of Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) grants for major recycling and clean energy projects. The government is inviting applications under its Recycling and Clean Energy stream, offering grants on average of $4 million, ranging from $1 million to $20 million. The $1.3 billion in funding will assist manufacturers to scale up, commercialise and collaborate.

The MMI grant stream is now open and made up of two separate funding opportunities; 

>Manufacturing translation component: will assist manufacturers in expressing their ideas into commercial outcomes and encourage investment in non R&D innovation.
>Manufacturing integration component: will assist in commercializing innovative concepts, integrating into local and domestic supply chains.

The government has outlined examples of the grants, addressing the funding suitability to include activities which aim to enable greater use of recycled materials across supply chains, and/or that promote increased use of clean energy within their industrial systems.

Applications for these grants close on the 5th of May and businesses must provide co – funding.

Stewardship for Solar Panels Moves Forward

Work led by Sustainability Victoria has taken a positive step forward in responsible management for end-of-life solar panels, inverters and batteries.

A new report covering a stewardship options assessment for photovoltaic (PV) systems has recently been released. It discusses many of the key issues as we move towards a decision on how to best manage the collection, reuse and/or recycling of obsolete, redundant and unwanted solar panels and associated equipment, including batteries.

The options assessment was prepared by Equilibrium and Ernst & Young on behalf of the national working group involving all jurisdictions. The report can be  downloaded here.

In summary, the assessment report found that:

> Key stakeholders (including PV manufacturers, importers and industry associations) supported a nationally coordinated approach for managing PV system waste

> Solar panel waste is the fastest growing e-waste stream in Australia, with only limited recycling opportunities, and would benefit the most from a product stewardship approach

> Either a voluntary or co-regulatory approach for solar panels may be feasible and are likely to achieve the environmental, health and safety objectives of the Product Stewardship Act 2011, improve management of solar panels and increase the opportunity to reuse valuable materials

> The recommended next step is to analyse the potential impacts of voluntary and co-regulatory options.

Given the increasing volume of solar panels entering the market, the time is right to develop a clear forward strategy that can ensure responsible management for this problematic waste stream. Not unlike other forms of ewaste in Australia, the need to promptly build capacity and capabilities is a priority issue, as acknowledged by the Product List under the Product Stewardship Act.

More information about the national approach being pursued can be found here:  https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/About-us/Research/Solar-energy-system-lifecycles

Timeline

The timeline outlined by Sustainability Victoria provides a useful chronology of activity to date, as well as immediate next steps.

> 2014: Victorian Government commits to ban e-waste from landfill

> 2015: Solar panels are identified as the fastest growing e-waste stream without dedicated recycling infrastructure in the Victorian e-waste market flow and processing capacity analysis

> 2016: PV systems are added to the federal government’s Product Stewardship Act 2011 priority product list

> 2016: The Victorian Government receives endorsement through the Meeting of Environment Ministers to form a national working group to work with the PV industry to develop a national management approach for PV systems

> 2017: The national working group completes a national PV systems market flow and processing capacity analysis for PV system equipment, such as inverters and batteries

> 2018: PV systems stewardship options assessment completed by consultants Equilibrium and Ernst & Young on behalf of the national working group

> 2018: Meeting of all state and territory Environment Ministers endorses the national battery stewardship approach to include PV system batteries

> 2019: Recommendation made by the national working group to remove PV inverter equipment and batteries from the national approach to focus solely on PV panels

> Future: National working group to undertake a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) assessing industry-led and co-regulatory options for solar panels, and the flow-on regulatory and economic impacts

> Future: National working group to make recommendations to state, territory and federal governments on a preferred management approach.

The momentum is now building and a decision on the type of stewardship scheme seems likely given the preparatory work, stakeholder engagement and feasibility assessment completed to date.

Whether it is an industry-led program or a co-regulatory scheme, the planning and design process is well underway and bodes well for a national solution that can maximise resource recovery opportunities for this category of ewaste.

More information

Michael Dudley
Strategy Lead – Market Development | Resource Recovery
Sustainability Victoria
michael.dudley@sustainability.vic.gov.au

Nick Harford
Managing Director
Equilibrium
nick@equil.com.au

John Gertsakis
Director, Communications
Equilibrium
john@equil.com.au

Stewardship for solar panels attracts attention

As rooftop solar continues to boom, the future fate of photovoltaic panels is attracting greater scrutiny including active investigation of a national stewardship scheme to manage their recovery, refurbishment and recycling.

A recent story by ABC News investigated the growing pressure to ensure that end-of-life solar panels do not end up in landfill, especially given the valuable and scarce materials used to make them in the first instance.

The expected volumes of old and damaged panels is growing  with the ABC story reporting that 1,500 kilotons of obsolete PVs likely to reach end-of-life by 2050. This highlights the need to develop and implement national solutions, including potential stewardship programs that result in effective, safe and environmentally sound decommissioning and recycling of panels.

Sustainability Victoria is leading a national project to examine photovoltaic systems and assess possible options for stewardship programs to potentially manage the products at end-of-life.

The project is timely given the recent ban of ewaste to landfill in Victoria, which includes solar panels, inverters and battery storage.

Equilibrium was appointed by Sustainability Victoria to undertake an analysis and assess potential options for a national product stewardship approach.

Solar panels and associated products and equipment have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in future years.  For the Sustainability Victoria project “PV systems” have been defined to include panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems.

For more information about Sustainability Victoria’s project on stewardship for PV systems look here.

More information

For more information contact Nick Harford at nick@equil.com.au or mobile 0419 993 234

 

Future fate of photovoltaic panels

As the uptake of renewable energy continues to grow and expand, so too does the need to consider how we manage end-of-life photovoltaic panels.

Sustainability Victoria is leading a national project to examine photovoltaic (PV) systems and assess possible options for stewardship programs to potentially manage the products at end-of-life.

PV panels and associated equipment (inverters and storage) have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in future years. Equilibrium has been engaged by Sustainability Victoria to undertake an analysis and assess potential options for a national product stewardship approach.

New research by UNSW examines the economic barriers, the technologies and opportunities in recycling end-of-life PVs. In April, a group of four researchers from UNSW published an assessment of the approaches developed to date, economic barriers to their widespread implementation, and the potential for material recovery and profit from a future PV-upcycling industry.

The study puts Australia at the forefront of understanding the economic drivers and possibilities ahead.

A comprehensive story in the May 2019 issue of PV Magazine by Natalie Filatoff reports on the landmark study conducted by the UNSW team.

For more information about the Sustainability Victoria project contact Michael Dudley.

You can view the article here.

 

 

 

 

 

ACOR Briefing Paper: Mandatory Product Stewardship Schemes

While all schemes can be improved, the current regulated take-back programs are producing good results, and there has been no demonstrable consumer concern about their cost.

Under the Product Stewardship Act 2011, schemes can be established to manage different products and materials in order to reduce their life-cycle impacts on the environment and on human health and safety.

Mandatory schemes involve enabling regulations to be made that would require some persons to take specified action in relation to products. Such requirements might include restricting the
manufacture or import of products, prohibiting products from containing particular substances, labelling and packaging requirements and other requirements relating to reusing, recycling,
recovering, treating or disposing of products.

A briefing paper prepared by Equilibrium for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) identifies the likely costs of operating mandatory product stewardship schemes for tyres, mattresses and e-waste.

In considering the potential costs of a mandatory product stewardship scheme for various products, it is assumed that there will be development and set-up costs such as Regulatory Impact Statements, technical assessments and legal costs that will be borne by Government and industry participants / liable parties.

A copy of the briefing paper can be viewed on the ACOR website.

Stewardship Tools and Economic Outcomes

Recent pressures on Australia’s waste industry and some local councils reveal thought-provoking views about the desired remedies and solutions. Some of them are well considered, commercially sound and informed; others seem opportunistic and motivated by self-interest.

As part of the scramble for solutions, ambitions for achieving a circular economy are to be commended and pursued, but they must also demonstrate genuine attention to the core principles of what a circular economy is and provides.

In Australia, many circular economy visions and claims seem rebranded ‘old-school’ recycling activities that are far from regenerative, restorative or closed loop. Putting recovered materials into road building is good but not really recycling or upcycling that maximises functional value or extends material life; more so it is a short step from otherwise landfilling such materials.

Such pursuits also seem to typically co-opt product stewardship as a tenet of a circular economy, often going further and binding the two together.

History, theory and reality tells us that product stewardship is about managing the life-cycle of products and this involves much more than materials or waste management. Product stewardship has grown out of chemical companies in particular safeguarding farmers and other end-users from the toxic or health threatening effects of certain chemicals and in particular herbicides and insecticides.

Product stewardship is a tool that can involve diverse interventions at different stages of the life-cycle and across the spectrum of environmental issues and impacts not excluding occupational, health and safety, energy efficiency, safe operation, or design for repair, remanufacturing and refurbishment. Indeed, in many North American companies, product stewardship is often primarily focused on the safe management of chemicals and restricted substances across the product life-cycle.

On the other hand, a circular economy is a desired outcome for managing products and materials in a more  sustainable manner. It seeks to ensure that the production and consumption process values and rewards resource productivity. A circular economy is chiefly the result of materials movement and use allocating waste as an unwanted inefficiency, ipso facto transitioning from the take-make-waste-paradigm to circularity.

Distinct and separate concepts

While there is complementarity as some elements of product stewardship can contribute to achieving a circular economy, they are distinct and separate concepts. Each one worthy and necessary, but not co-dependent, nor interchangeable. One is a tool or approach typically applied by producers and/or retailers; the other is a system-wide outcome involving more action by more players across the economy.

Some claim the need for increased product stewardship regulation in order to cover the cost of market failures or sustain the business activities of waste management providers. Others believe that increased in-country processing of recyclables will resolve the export dilemma. Yet others are convinced that recycled content in packaging with associated labeling can save the day. There is even great enthusiasm for embedding a range of post-consumer materials in road building and construction, instead of embedding it in landfill. And we haven’t even touched on the role of waste to energy and whether it is compatible with circular economy principles.

The reality is that we may need a mix of multiple responses depending on the specific issue or impact being addressed. A one-dimensional approach typically delivers questionable environmental benefit.

For a more circular economy, mandated product stewardship mechanisms might be relevant and necessary in some cases, just as voluntary models might be most desirable in other instances. There will also be myriad other economy-wide measures required, as this has been clearly evidenced by the EU’s package of circular economy measures.

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan gives us a sense of what is required in a practical policy and programs sense. It reflects system-wide, economy-wide interventions across sectors, industries and communities. It reflects a transformative approach across many players in government, industry, academia and the community. The Commission’s Action Plan also highlights the comprehensive nature of its measures and how they apply to existing policies, laws, directives, standards regulations, and codes.

The current inclination to push product stewardship and circular economy as partners working towards better waste and recycling outcomes over-plays their purpose and capacity. It also under-estimates the detail of what’s required to achieve better product life cycles and a more circular economy.

Noteworthy examples

Of course there are great examples where product stewardship and circular economy principles work well together and achieve noteworthy results.

Product stewardship is not prima facie about waste management and circular economy, and trying to make it so weakens its role and restricts solutions.

For example, Australia led the way with newsprint recycling through the Publishers National Environment Bureau (PNEB), and a model that reflected both a strong stewardship approach and the core circular economy principles. Australian newspaper and magazine publishing companies worked collaboratively to develop a program that increased recovery and recycling rates of newsprint and did so through closed loop strategies that applied across the supply chain.

This was done as paper recycling operated in a semi-circular economic fashion in its own right. While paper production on a national and global scale physically requires introduction of long fibres only achievable through virgin pulp, the paper industry nonetheless is largely circular based on the economic benefits and inherent value in recovered fibre.

Another real-world exemplar of how stewardship and the circular economy work in tandem but are not co-dependent is the commercial furniture sector. Steelcase is an American company creating products and services for the workplace and is well known for design, manufacture… and refurbishment of workstations, ergonomic seating and other commercial furniture products.

Steelcase developed their Phase 2 Program to handle high-volume furniture recovery and refurbishment activity, all of which is underpinned by a zero waste to landfill goal. It is a smartly designed initiative and seeks to maximise the useful life of office furniture by enabling a second life with other customers. There is a strong charitable and gifting focus but it is also highly commercial. They’ve worked out a model that is regenerative, restorative as well as closed-loop to a significant degree.

The Steelcase gifting and charitable process has also been fine-tuned to work at a national level and with large volumes of product, thus it’s no cottage industry. In many respects it reflects the essence of product stewardship and includes a strong social and charitable dimension while also diverting thousands of workstations and chairs from landfill on an annual basis.

Again, no regulation, producer-focused and a great example of how design for disassembly and refurbishment upstream in  the product life-cycle can deliver social, environmental and economic benefit downstream. It’s more about circular asset management, good design and a company culture that values product durability and charitable objectives.

Successful product stewardship schemes can and do operate with or without the waste industry

In electronics for example, we see product stewardship exercised through asset management programs and reverse logistics operators whereby the consolidation, collection and transport are managed by third parties to manage the remarketing, reuse and redeployment of product. This example is widespread among the mobile phone, computer and business imaging industries with no need for traditional waste management service providers or materials recycling  businesses.

So what do these examples tell us about product stewardship and the circular economy and the relationship therein?

Firstly, we need to acknowledge the difference between tools (product stewardship), and outcomes (circular economy), noting that product stewardship is not just about industry-funded post-consumer waste recycling programs, just as circular economy is more than just processing recyclables in-country.

Closing remarks

Commercial self-interest that is connected to any intervention, program or scheme needs to be called out. Simplistic claims for mandatory instruments should be approached with caution.

The waste and recycling industries have a role to play in product stewardship schemes and pursuit of a more circular economy, they are important service providers and enablers for both. However, they are not central to both, but perhaps more vital in the circular economy than in product stewardship opportunities.  They are only links in a chain.

None of this is about being unrealistic or impractical; more so it is about confronting the evidence we know and hear daily, evidence that tells us that window-dressing, half-measures, and environmental spin, will not deliver the positive change we require in order to consume sustainably and operate successful companies, social enterprises and local councils.

The restorative and regenerative principles inherent in a circular economy tell us that ‘value’ in all its forms must be maximised; that lowest cost is not always the lowest overall price when all environmental, economic and social factors are considered. It also tells us that waste disposal and down-cycling may sometimes the best of limited available options, but are still not circular.

One of the challenges and risks for all stakeholders is to resist the temptation of mediocrity. We need to guard against the broader value of tools like Product Stewardship and circular thinking being reduced to crude waste management tools.

This article was authored by John Gertsakis – director, communications, and Nick Harford – managing director of Equilibrium.

Originally published on 27 August 2018 in Inside Waste online.

Photovoltaic Systems Stewardship Study

Online survey available for interested stakeholders

Sustainability Victoria (SV) is leading a national project to examine photovoltaic systems and assess possible options for stewardship programs to potentially manage the products at end-of-life.

Product stewardship specialist Equilibrium has been appointed by Sustainability Victoria to undertake an analysis and assess potential options for a national product stewardship approach.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels and associated products and equipment have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in future years.  For this project “PV systems” have been defined to include panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems.

As part of the project, Equilibrium welcomes input and information from manufacturers, installers, project developers, the energy industry, peak bodies and others .

Information and evidence gathered will support the assessment of potential options.

Stakeholder survey available online

Organisations and individuals interested in the project can complete a short online survey here:  http://bit.ly/PVs-survey

The deadline for completing the survey is COB Monday 27th August 2018.

For more information about the project or the survey, contact Damien Wigley at Equilibrium at:  damien@equil.com.au