By Chris Nicholls

SYDNEY: The consumer electronics industry, both suppliers and retailers, stand ready to offer their help in establishing a national e-waste recycling scheme, but are being hamstrung by “embarrassing” government inaction, said industry heavy hitters.

Consumer electronics supplier representative group Product Stewardship Australia (PSA), which represents approximately 70 per cent of all CE suppliers in Australia, said they had had a proposal for a national pickup scheme on the table since 2004, which even agreed to fund much of the recycling cost of e-waste, but said successive Federal governments had done nothing to date.

“This [e-waste recycling] is all happening around the world. This is the embarrassment for the Australian government. For some reason they are dragging their feet,” said PSA chief executive, John Gertsakis.

“PSA and its members have put forward now for several years a proposed national solution … and primarily fund that scheme. But it’s subject to government playing its role and ensuring that it underpins our scheme with safety net regulations that either encourages those non-participating companies to run that scheme or to join the PSA scheme.”

JB Hi-Fi chief executive, Richard Uechtritz, said he would be happy to participate in an e-waste recycling scheme, but again, said logistical problems due to store locations and the lack of a national scheme were major issues.

“It has to be more on our standalone stores or I guess the Harvey’s and The Good Guys are in a better position somewhat than us, because most of their stores are in standalones, but certainly, if someone organised it all … our standalone stores would be happy to look at the ins and outs of it.

“It would be good if it was more of an industry thing – that The Good Guys, Harvey’s, ourselves could all do then we’d be happy to talk to anybody that felt that they could recycle it. It’s the same as us doing it, because we’ve got to say ‘Where’s it going to go?’”

Uechtritz agreed that “it certainly makes a lot of sense” to get the government involved in legislation for such a recycling scheme as PSA proposed.

Narta general manager, Michael Jackson, agreed with Uechtritz’s stance, saying while it would be happy to contribute as a group, it needed “to either have some sort of industry standard, even if it was a group standard at the end of the day.”

“It’s nice to go out and say we’re doing something for the environment, but you still need to be realistic logistically [about] how that would work and operate. You don’t want it to be something that starts being a warehousing issue.

“If there is a proper system on how it would be collected, taken, disposed of [we would support it],” he said.

Panasonic Australia managing director, Steve Rust, agreed logistics could be an issue for some stores, and suggested a national pickup scheme run with local councils and garbage pickup companies as a possible solution.

“I have a more national perspective on the issue, where we’ve got around two million televisions going into landfill at the moment. And I think that as we get closer to switchover date [for digital TV], there are going to be more and more televisions that are going to be thrown out and the numbers could increase to more than two million a year quite easily.

“On that scale, my view is that a pickup scheme from the consumer’s home is probably the way to go. There are already mechanisms to do that – the local councils and other rubbish removal organisations operate where they are travelling to people’s homes on a regular basis to pick up [garbage] from the nature strip, and my view is leveraging existing processes might be the easiest way to go on a nationwide scale,” he said.

Rust said Panasonic Australia would even be willing to shoulder its “fair share” of the financial burden, estimated for TVs to be approximately $15 per set, but only if its rivals reciprocated.

Harvey Norman chairman Gerry Harvey was more circumspect, saying that while he was a “greenie”, the scheme could be a long way off.

“All these things are going to happen in our lifetime, but they’re going to be a very gradual thing, and they’re going to be determined a lot by the cost,” he said.

The Federal Environment Minister’s office today told that they and the EPHC were working with industry “on a range of product stewardship options such as voluntary codes of conduct and recycling schemes.”

“While any case for regulation would need to demonstrate a clear community benefit, EPHC will continue to assist industry in this process and the Australian Government is exploring ways to assist in quantifying the value placed by the community on product stewardship,” it said.

“Waste management generally, including e-waste, remains a priority for the EPHC. Considerable effort is being made with groups like Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (CESA) to address issues such as the use of hazardous substances in electronic equipment. Industry is also working with staff from the Commonwealth Environment Department on the development of a voluntary code of conduct for the industry to move away from using hazardous materials in their products.”