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MAV Opinion Editorial - What the e-waste ban means for you

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Did you know 1 July marked the start of the Victorian government’s ban on e-waste going to landfill, which affects all Victorians?

The ban applies to all electronic waste or “e-waste” – which means anything with a plug, power cord or battery that is either not working or unwanted. This includes everything from phones, refrigerators and microwaves to fluorescent light bulbs, LEDs and remote controls.

You are no longer allowed to dispose of e-waste into your rubbish bin. Instead it can be dropped off at designated collection points across the state.

The ban was introduced because e-waste items contain potentially hazardous substances that we don’t want contaminating our environment. These can include heavy metals, mercury and chlorofluorocarbons, which are dangerous chemicals if not handled and disposed of correctly.

E-waste items can also be valuable. Up to 95 per cent of materials can be recovered from e-waste for reuse. These materials need to be specially treated to separate and remove them safely, with some parts being recycled over and over again. This also helps our environment by reducing demand for raw materials.

Many community members may not know about the e-waste ban or what it means. We have urged the Victorian government to rollout a highly visible community education campaign. For the ban to work, people need to know about and understand it.

There also needs to be convenient locations to drop off your e-waste. While the government is working with councils and retailers to establish e-waste collection points, we have ongoing concerns that some residents in rural and regional areas may not have access to local collection sites.

To find out where you can take your e-waste, check online at www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/campaigns/ewaste.

Planet Ark also has a useful tool at www.recyclingnearyou.com.au where you can search by postcode or region to find your nearest e-waste drop-off site.

Many council transfer stations have drop-off services for e-waste. There may be a fee involved, so check locally. Retailers such as Aldi, Officeworks and Batteryworld are also collecting certain types of e-waste.

In our view, the principle of product stewardship should underpin the e-waste landfill ban in Victoria. Product stewardship approaches are preferable because they help ensure most of the e-waste recovery costs are borne by those importing, producing, selling and purchasing electronic goods - instead of by ratepayers more broadly.

Victorian councils already participate in a number of product ;stewardship schemes, including for televisions, computers and computer paraphernalia, batteries, mobile phones and printer cartridges.

MobileMuster, for example, runs a program on behalf of the mobile phone industry to collect old and unwanted mobile phones. The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, funded by companies who manufacture or import large quantities of television and computer products, also operates with free drop-off locations across Victoria.

It would make sense to expand these product stewardship schemes to cover all e-waste products, with collection points established at retailers who sell electronic goods. This would improve access to drop-off locations and provide incentives for producers to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products.

The Federal government has the power to introduce mandatory product stewardship schemes nationally. Local government is seeking to partner with the Victorian government to jointly lobby the Federal government to take decisive action.

The need for an e-waste ban is undisputed. However, we remain concerned Victoria does not yet have the required infrastructure to reprocess recoverable e-waste materials, or the end markets to support the uptake of new uses for recycled content.

We hope a series of current Victorian reviews will lead to greater State investment in sorting, processing and materials recovery infrastructure. This is essential to ensure industry has the capability to recycle locally rather than shipping offshore.

But the ultimate goal remains to avoid creating e-waste where we don’t need to. Individuals can help by donating, swapping or selling your good-quality unwanted electronic goods, rather than disposing of them at a collection site.

Australia is making the slow march towards creating a circular economy. Many other countries have already acted, and it is second nature for their industry and residents to minimise waste and maximise reuse and recycling.

We urgently need the Federal government to show leadership in this space, including adopting a National Waste Policy Action Plan with ambitious targets to drive change.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President

This Opinion Editorial was published on 5 July in Fairfax regional papers, the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and Warrnambool Standard.