Information and communication technology (ICT) delivers myriad environmental and social benefits; however, electronic waste arising from the technological revolution remains a significant global problem.
While programs exist for the recovery and recycling of some end-of-life electronic and electrical goods (called e-waste), environmental and human health damage still occurs in some countries when e-waste is illegally or irresponsibly managed. E-waste going to landfill risks releasing toxins over time and poor recycling practices discharge a range of pollutants into air, water and land.
Local and international experience suggests that a number of schemes and innovative approaches for e-waste will be needed to comprehensively manage the mounting problem.
Telstra has supported responsible recycling programs for almost 20 years, but stepped up its activity by developing and piloting eCycle. The Telstra eCycle program provided a convenient and free pick-up service to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) whereby a range of e-waste can be collected and recycled through boxes provided by Telstra and transported to accredited recyclers.
Telstra eCycle was supported through participating Telstra Business Centres across metro and regional Australia, accepting a wide range of smaller consumer and ICT e-waste and all materials are recycled.
The pilot program ran until 1 March this year. It was designed to test ways to best overcome the barriers for SMEs when it comes to recycling e-waste – those being convenience, cost, data security and privacy.
[quote style=’1′ cite=”]In Australia e-waste is growing three times faster than any other waste stream.[/quote]
A decade of research through the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and MobileMuster found that while large organisations generally had the skills and resources to properly manage e-waste, SMEs often lack the capacity and knowledge and frequently stockpile e-waste.
The program has shown good results and a full review will now be conducted in parallel with the finalisation of Telstra’s Electronics Reuse and Recycling Strategy.
The feedback to date has been positive and, with more than 500 participants and 30 tonnes of e-waste recycled, eCycle is certainly having a positive impact.
Telstra’s Environment Strategy commits to developing innovative products and solutions and eCycle is an example of addressing a known problem for SMEs, whether they are a customer or not.
We are hoping that eCycle allows SMEs to get on with running their business while conveniently using a trusted recycling process to both rid their office of unwanted e-waste and achieve a good environmental outcome.
Equally important is addressing the barriers of data security and privacy as the AMTA research found SMEs are either unsure about destroying data or concerned sensitive information could end up where it shouldn’t be. Telstra designed eCycle with input from industry leaders and engaged accredited and credible program partners to ensure users can be assured that high quality outcomes are achieved, including all material being recycled with none resold and all data being destroyed.
Telstra fully funded the program and engaged Infoactiv Group to provide secure logistics (through its Ecoactiv services) and Sims Recycling Solutions to provide high quality and accountable physical data destruction and material recovery.
The scale of the e-waste problem is large and currently increasing. In 2013, the United Nations forecast the volume disposed globally to increase from 48 million tonnes in 2012 to 65 million tonnes in 2017 – and in Australia e-waste is growing three times faster than any other waste stream.
Global experts such as the US-based e-Stewards acknowledge that while there are laws and schemes regarding take-back and recycling of the e-waste, lack of enforcement allows illegal disposal or irresponsible recycling.
In Australia there are a range of industry-led programs that support the take-back and recycling of e-waste such as MobileMuster, FluoroCycle, the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) and the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).
Telstra has learned a lot about e-waste through supporting MobileMuster for almost 20 years and undertaking its own internal e-waste management program.
At Telstra we have long known that e-waste can be difficult for people to manage and, just because there are programs available, it doesn’t mean people will access and use them.
We need to be innovative with our programs and responsive to our customers, and in that way we can support environmental solutions that not only provide environmental improvement but also add business value.
Addressing e-waste presents an opportunity for the information and telecommunications technology industry to move from the current end-of-life recycling focus, and adopt more innovative solutions across the full product life cycle. Increasing reuse and influencing product design offer opportunities to adopt a more circular lifecycle approach and thereby enhance the environmental and social benefits the industry enables.
[quote style=’1′ cite=”]Just because there are e-waste recycling programs available, it doesn’t mean people will access and use them.[/quote]
In June 2015 the Global e-Sustainability Initiative released the report titled ‘SMARTer 2030: Information and Communication Technology Solutions for 21st Century Challenges’. The report details analysis on eight sectors of the global economy to determine the environmental and social impacts of technology.
‘SMARTer 2030’ finds that information and telecommunication technology can and does deliver outcomes such as reduced need for transport, more efficient manufacturing processes and improved agricultural practices that lead to reduced energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The report found that technology can enable a 20 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, essentially holding global emissions at 2015 levels.
While ICT can enable significant emissions reduction, the sector needs to be mindful of its own impacts including e-waste. The report notes that “finding more ‘circular solutions’ like reusing, refurbishing or recycling e-waste is critical to ensuring the reliable and affordable sourcing of materials and to reducing supply chain volatility”.
Telstra’s approach aligns with this global thinking, with the eCycle program being one example of the innovation that is needed.
Telstra doesn’t only support end-of-pipe solutions such as eCycle. We are working with our major suppliers to develop better and more efficient products as well as a more circular approach to product and materials management.
The author, Pauline Gregg, is Telstra’s general manager – Environment. This article also appears in Issue 1 of Corporate Waste Solutions.