Not tyred of managing end-of-life
The essence of product stewardship and extended producer responsibility (EPR) is focused on manufacturers, producers, retailers and brands taking greater environmental responsibility for their products across the life cycle. It also requires consumers and other relevant stakeholders to play their part and ensure responsible disposal of products through official programs and schemes.
In the last issue of CWS we covered some of the more established stewardship programs underway in Australia. In this second part, we report on some of the more nascent initiatives aimed at better managing the issues and impacts associated with various product categories and waste streams.
We outline what’s happening to better manage end-of-life issues with mercury-containing lamps, handheld batteries and tyres. Other programs and schemes, including drumMUSTER and the recently launched Paintback program, will be discussed in future issues of CWS.
Product: mercury-containing lamps
The majority of mercury-containing lamps still end up in Australian landfills, and it is a sad state of affairs that, in 2016, industry has not significantly increased the recovery and recycling rates. While the quantity found in individual lamps is negligible, it is the accumulation of mercury in landfills over time that poses a more serious risk to ecosystems and human health.
In response to striving for a more acceptable level of product recovery and waste management, the Lighting Council of Australia developed the FluoroCycle program. The program has continued to evolve and is now government accredited as a voluntary product stewardship scheme under the Product Stewardship Act.
FluoroCycle’s core aim is to increase the national recycling rate of waste mercury-containing lamps and keep waste lamps out of landfill. The focus is very much on workplace-based recycling where larger volumes of lamps can be more efficiently recovered and reprocessed. FluoroCycle provides little or no practical benefit or disposal convenience to the general public and householders who may wish to responsibly recycle their mercury-containing lamps.
While not a free program to end-users, FluoroCycle has a strong education and PR focus, underpinned by program signatories and facilitators.
There is little doubt that FluoroCycle’s recovery and recycling rate could be dramatically improved if producers and suppliers of relevant lighting products contributed more funding to make the program attractive to more organisations, institutions and government agencies, including a user-friendly model specifically for local government.
TYRE STEWARDSHIP AUSTRALIA
Announced in 2014, by the federal Minister for the Environment and tyre industry leaders, this voluntary scheme has been designed with two main purposes – to increase resource recovery and recycling, and minimise the environmental, health and safety impacts of all end-of-life tyres generated in Australia and to develop Australia’s tyre recycling industry and markets for tyre- derived products.
It has taken a long time to come to fruition with various options, models, reports and regulatory impact statements undertaken in Australia over the past 15 years.
Funded by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) approved levy of 25 cents per equivalent passenger unit on the sales of new tyres sold by participating tyre companies, the mission of the scheme is to reduce the volume of end-of-life tyres currently being disposed of in a manner that is damaging to the environment. This is essentially via landfill, illegal dumping or undesirable export, and to increase the recycling rate through the promotion of economic uses of the resulting recycled feedstock of such tyres.
The scope of the scheme includes all vulcanised rubber tyres entering the Australian market for the first time. It applies to tyres that are loose replacements for use on, or already fitted to, motorised vehicles and non- motorised trailers towed behind motorised vehicles. So, basically, it covers tyres for motorcycles, passenger cars, box trailers, caravans, light commercial vehicles, trucks and truck trailers, buses, mining and earth moving vehicles, cranes, excavators, graders, farm machinery and forklifts – but this is not a complete list by any means.
The scheme is being managed by the recently established not-for-profit organisation Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA), which is made up of representatives from across the tyre supply chain such as tyre retailers, manufacturers, recyclers and collectors, including the Australia Motor Industry Federation.
It is estimated that in 2013/14 only five percent of the 51 million equivalent passenger unit standard passenger car tyres (each weighing 9.5 kilograms) discarded annually in Australia was recycled locally. The rest was disposed to landfill, stockpiled, illegally dumped or exported overseas. The Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme is aiming to increase this recycling rate to 50 percent within five years.
The first two initiatives of TSA have been to set up a voluntary accreditation scheme for participants involved in the collection, transport and processing of waste tyres and to establish a research fund to support projects that will lead to a direct increase in the local consumption of tyre-derived products that are currently on the market, such as crumb rubber, rubber granule and shredded tyre products.
Funds collected through the ACCC approved levy will not be used to fund the current collection and processing of tyres. This will continue to be funded by consumers who pay voluntary environmental disposal levies charged by tyre retailers who them, in part, pass on to collectors, transporters and recyclers.
TSA is encouraging members of the tyre industry to become an accredited participant in this voluntary scheme. There are seven categories of participants – tyre importers/vehicle manufacturers/importers, retailers, fleet operators, local government, collectors/transporters, recyclers and miners.
By joining the scheme and becoming accredited, each participant is not only committing to support
the objectives of the scheme they are also committing to contribute to the environmentally sound use of end-of-life tyres, elimination of the inappropriate export of baled tyres from Australia, elimination of the illegal dumping of end-of-life tyres and elimination of disposal of end-of-life tyres to landfill.
With just under 12 months of operation, membership of the scheme is slowly growing. Many of the main manufacturers and importers have joined the TSA scheme including: the Australian Motor Federation Industry, Bridgestone, Michelin, Pirelli, Goodyear/ Dunlop, Toyo Tyres, Tyrepower, Continental, Yokohama, BFGoodrich, Kelly Tyres, Firestone, General Tire, Kleber, Mazzini Tyres, Semperit, Uniroyal and Viking.
It is expected the scheme will be put forward for accreditation as a voluntary product stewardship program under the Product Stewardship Act.
Another key organisation involved in tyre recycling is the Australian Tyre Recycling Association (ATRA). Open to all relevant stakeholders, ATRA is a member- driven group that adheres to the organisation’s principles and is involved in the processing of waste tyres, including retailers, collectors, recyclers and tyre manufacturers.
ATRA members are independently audited by specialist consultants who undertake data collection, satellite monitoring and site visits on behalf of the ATRA committee. This audit process provides assurance to the public and ATRA’s retail partners that their used tyres are being responsibly recycled. For more information visit the ATRA website (atra.org.au).
There are also various state and territory government regulations in place for the storage disposal and transportation of tyres.
AUSTRALIAN BATTERY RECYCLING INITIATIVE
Product: all types of batteries
Australia is well overdue for an industry-funded national collection and recycling program for handheld batteries.
The need to keep single-use and rechargeable batteries is now well-established, based on community expectations and environmental harm, especially where hazardous or toxic substances are involved, such as nickel and cadmium. The fact that small, handheld batteries are dealt with through extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations in Europe and parts of the US also underscores Australia’s laggard status on managing end-of-life batteries.
The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) has been leading the push for a national battery stewardship solution. ABRI has been formed by a group of battery manufacturers, recyclers, retailers, government bodies and environment groups to promote the collection, recycling and safe disposal of all batteries. Importantly, its role includes research, advocacy, education and stakeholder engagement to promote safe and environmentally responsible recycling of all batteries at end of life.
In the absence of battery manufacturers, brands and retailers delivering a voluntary national recycling service, ABRI is advocating an intelligent approach to co-regulatory intervention in order to compel producers to take life cycle responsibility for the products they place on the market. There is nothing new in this approach and many of the same brands doing nothing in Australia are allocating significant funding to battery stewardship in Europe and North America.
The glaring question is why battery producers have failed to apply their corporate social responsibility principles and programs in Australia, when they do so in other jurisdictions and regions? Given the growing momentum supporting battery stewardship by numerous key stakeholders, including key government agencies and specialist recyclers, it is likely that current industry engagement activities could deliver a positive outcome. If not, battery producers are poised to experience some intense heat from environment NGOs (non-government organisations), local councils and other interested stakeholders, eager to see the timely introduction of an industry-funded take-back scheme.
While planning and consultation aimed at a national scheme is underway, there are several smaller scale battery recycling initiatives that are noteworthy and provide a template for how a more comprehensive national program may be achieved:
■ Battery World stores offer a free battery recycling service for its customers. There are over 70 stores across the country.
■ ALDI is the first supermarket to offer a national battery recycling program for customers. While any brand of battery can be brought back, only AA, AAA, C, D and 9V sized batteries (rechargeable and non- rechargeable) are accepted through the program.
■ Mobile phones and mobile phone batteries are recycled through the MobileMuster program. They can be dropped off at over 3500 participating retail stores and local council facilities or returned in a reply paid envelope.
■ IKEA stores accept batteries for recycling at no cost to consumers.
■ Brisbane residents can recycle used power tool batteries though the pilot Power Tool Battery Back program that runs in participating Bunnings, Masters and TradeTools stores until June 2016. The program was devised as a means of measuring the demand and structure of a future permanent program.
■ Sydney City Council has established a number of drop-off locations to recycle handheld batteries, mobile phones and light bulbs. In other urban and regional centres in NSW, Community Recycling Centres are being rolled out to collect batteries and other problem wastes with funding from NSW EPA.
■ Emergency and exit lighting batteries are being collected through the Lighting Council Australia’s EXITCYCLE program. The first stage is a pilot in Queensland.
■ Planet Ark’s RecyclingNearYou website can be a useful source of information about battery recycling services in specific local government areas. (recyclingnearyou.com.au/batteries).
■ It is obvious that the piecemeal approach to battery collection and recycling in Australia requires a more coherent scheme that is adequately funded by battery producers and brands, as well as retailers that benefit from the sale of batteries.
End-of-life batteries (under five kilograms) are currently on the Australian Government’s product stewardship list for some form of accreditation or regulation under the Product Stewardship Act.
NOT ALL INDUSTRIES ARE EQUAL
It becomes evident that some industry sectors are more advanced than others when it comes to managing product life cycles, especially end-of-life waste impacts. The investment of some industries is significant and bodes well for effective and responsible management.
We are also seeing greater action upstream that reflects a more comprehensive approach to product stewardship, that is, positively influencing product design and manufacturing in order to minimise environmental impacts – and not just the usual focus on collecting and reprocessing waste.
While we have outlined some examples of industry-wide schemes and programs, it is important to note that there are many companies and brands that operate their own individual stewardship and take-back initiatives, and their contribution should not be underestimated.
Companies involved in textiles, clothing and footwear (such as Patagonia, Puma, Nike, Woven Image and North Face) have been long-term pioneers in product stewardship and EPR, as have some major companies involved in the production of floor coverings such as carpet tiles, broadloom carpet and resilient flooring.
With growing recognition that circular economy solutions are pivotal to achieving a sustainable future, the role and definition of product stewardship will evolve to become even more connected and coherent. A good example of this is the tyre industry, which is investing in technologies to develop new markets for tyre-derived products.
More examples of innovative product and service design will emerge that clearly demonstrate how we dematerialise and focus on functional output rather than manufactured throughput.
The rise of the service economy as characterised by collaborative consumption, the sharing economy, profit with purpose and other new business models, will dramatically shape and reconfigure the nature of product stewardship.
Provided the disruption delivers improvement and net benefit, as opposed to endless online commentary, then we can assume much positive action and change in the future.
Written by John Gertsakis and Rose Read. Gertsakis is chief sustainability officer at Infoactiv, and Read the chief executive officer at MRI PSO.