Tech trash dwarfs Sydney Tower

By Julian Bajkowski

Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has declared that the volume of electronic waste being now junked by city residents has reached the level where unwanted devices could be stacked as high as the city’s tallest building, Sydney Tower.

According to the City of Sydney’s tall claim, its residents turfed a whopping 2,218 pieces of e-waste weighing 78 tonnes at council sponsored quarterly drop-offs in 2012, up 20 per cent from last year and double the amount since the scheme started in 2009.

“If you stacked all the old televisions and computer monitors side to side it would reach a height of 460 metres, which is higher than Sydney Tower at 309 metres,” the Lord Mayor Moore said.

The latest statistics are a bittersweet victory for the City which has mounted a strident campaign to divert electronic junk from its roadsides and landfill to designated disposal points from where deleted equipment can be dispatched to recyclers.

A City of Sydney spokesman told Government News the cost of holding an e-waste drop off was estimated to be around $20,000. The drop-off is held quarterly and digital dumpers are not charge to deposit their cast-offs at the regular events.

The issue of diverting e-waste from landfill has become an intensifying headache for local governments because levels of techno-trash are continuing to rise as gadgets like printers, mobile phones and monitors continue to drop in price.

The price drop over the last decade has largely eliminated the market in second-hand technology which once flourished through used refurbished machines below the cost of new ones.

As a result, devices that could once be sold off cheaply as a retired asset have now come to represent a liability both for businesses and ratepayers alike.

A central concern around e-waste is that it is toxic when it breaks down, making it problematic and expensive to manage and keep out of landfill.

To address the issue the Federal government finally pushed through key e-waste legislative reforms in late 2011 through the creation of National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), part of the National Waste Policy.

The creation of the scheme came despite vehement resistance from computer and peripheral manufacturers and importers which for decades enjoyed the benefit of an effective taxpayer subsidy on the disposal of their goods while comparable polluting industries paid their way through levies.

According to the federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the latest reforms transfer the cost of e-waste disposal back to manufacturers and importers by getting them to fund disposal and collection programs.

“The [NTCRS] will be funded and run by the television and computer industry, and regulated by the Australian Government under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 and the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations 2011,” the schemes website advising local government says.

However the decade-long introduction of the NTCRS has environmental advocates worried that the pace of reform is too slow.

Executive director of the Total Environment Centre, Jeff Angel, backed the City of Sydney’s moves to draw attention to the scale of the problem, but said industry should contribute more to clean-ups.

“Under the new national e-waste regulations Sydney City Council should extract much greater support from the computer and television industries,” Mr Angel said.

“We are also critical of regulations that established a slow ramp-up to the 80 per cent target to recycle by 2020. We have a big problem now and should be tackling it head on,” he said.

Differences over what over what kind of e-waste is accepted also remain.

A statement from Sydney City Council said that the “Federal Government’s scheme does not include other electronic waste such as printers, faxes and mobile phones – all of which are happily accepted by the City’s scheme.”

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