Industry, Apple haggles for hardware recycling help

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and a group of industry partners including Apple and IBM met with representatives from both state and federal governments on Wednesday to propose a national computer recycling scheme.
Written by Marcus Browne, Contributor

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and a group of industry partners including Apple and IBM met with representatives from both state and federal governments to propose a national computer recycling scheme.

As part of an ongoing green push spearheaded by the AIIA, delegates from the organisation and vendors such as Apple, IBM, Lenovo, Dell and HP arrived in Canberra on Wednesday to lobby federal and state regulators to impose a mandatory national recycling initiative for computer and electronic waste.


Sheryle Moon, AIIA CEO told ZDNet.com.au today that the purpose of the meeting was to ensure the cooperation of the government in helping the industry implement its own self-regulatory model.

"The federal government has certainly shown in its move towards a consultation process with industry in this area, it understands our concerns as well as how we propose to go forward," she said.

"The most important thing to come out of the meetings was the expression of willingness by both sides to put in place environmentally responsible schemes," Moon explained.

Last year the Association's "pilot scheme" scheme for e-waste recycling, Byteback, received an addition AU$2 million in funding from Sustainability Victoria. Byteback is designed to allow the public and small business to dispose of their end-of-life technologies for free at a number of plants throughout the state.

The Victorian government's grant last year has allowed the AIIA to expand the number of recycling plants across the state from one to nine, with three of these having opened already since the funds were allocated. It is expected that all nine will have opened by year's end.

Statistics collected as part of the scheme so far estimate that for every tonne of material recycled around 5.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide is saved.

According to Moon, the proposed national scheme would be based on a similar model to its Victorian pilot, funded by a combination of member fees and government allocations, but it would also include additional regulatory measures to better account for "whitebox" computers -- unbranded machines assembled with various components -- which have proven more difficult to recycle effectively.

"A national product stewardship scheme has to have the ability to embrace everyone who sells computers," said Moon. "And in Australia at the moment 40 percent of computers sold are unbranded."

"It's difficult to know what to do with the whitebox market," she said. "One way could be to introduce regulation requiring all computers and peripherals to be branded to solve the problem of unidentified waste."

The AIIA CEO said that any national scheme would also require a high degree of cooperation between state and federal governments to establish a takeback register across the country to ensure that vendors meet the necessary requirements.

A spokesperson for the federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts told ZDNet.com.au today that "a key aspect to emerge from discussions this week was agreement on the need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of the computer industry in Australia."

"Equipped with this information all parties will be better placed to identify the best recycling solutions for Australia," said the spokesperson.

Moon added: "We're definitely looking for timeframes and commitments from the federal government on this."

Moon said she was encouraged by the Rudd government's approach to green initiatives so far and hoped that any national computer recycling scheme wouldn't take too long to eventuate.

"The new government has been highly proactive in its talk regarding environmental sustainability in the lead up to the election, it's been very specific in its policy aims and is already acting on a number of fronts," she said.

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