Spotlight on eWaste with MRI

AWRE sat down with Rose Read from MRI (CEO, MRI PSO) to talk about the great work they are doing and the importance of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme.

Who is MRI and what do they do?
MRI E-cycle Solutions is an Australian owned e-waste and battery recycler, and we’re also an approved co-regulatory arrangement under the National Television and Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).

Operating since the early 1990s under the direction of founder Will LeMessurier, MRI E-cycle Solutions has grown and diversified its operations and services from a Melbourne based e-waste processor to a nationwide provider of asset recovery, data destruction, e-waste / battery recycling and product stewardship services.

It now has four asset processing facilities located in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra.  Together with its social enterprise recycling partners in Melbourne, Horsham, Launceston, Wagga Wagga and Adelaide, and recycling partners in Perth and Darwin, it now delivers a comprehensive service offering to local councils, corporates and many other organisations across the country.

With a strong commitment to delivering value to its local council and business clients in an environmentally sustainable way, MRI E-cycle Solutions has played a significant role from a policy and process perspective on how redundant electronics and batteries are recovered, reused or recycled in Australia.  MRI E-cycle Solutions played a key role in establishing and  developing MobileMuster’s collection and recycling processes in its early years (from 1998 to 2011) and continues its role as a provider of stewardship services to television and computer companies under the NTCRS. The company has also pioneered battery take-back programs for a national supermarket chain, individual battery manufacturers, waste management companies and several retailers.

A key focus for the ongoing development of the business has been the establishment of a robust information management system, complete with best practice processes and data wiping and destruction solutions.

Tracking and handling the movement and processing of high-value, data-sensitive materials in a safe, secure and environmentally sound manner is key. This significance of this process is further highlighted by the potentially dangerous or hazardous nature of the products that MRI E-cycle Solutions recovers, refurbishes or recycles.

From the point of pick-up to its final disposal for material recovery or reuse locally or overseas, all products, components and materials are traced and final outcomes reported to customers with more than 95% of materials diverted from landfill.

To this end, MRI E-cycle Solutions has invested heavily in achieving and maintaining its compliance and certification to international health, safety, quality and environmental standards, including the Australian Standard for the collection, transport and processing of end-of-life electronics and electrical products, AS 5377.

 

Tell us a little bit more about the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (and why it’s so important) and how the Scheme form part of the larger e-waste dialogue in the waste and recycling industry?
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams internationally and locally, and this is reflected in the desire of Australian consumers to own the latest electronic gadgets and devices. We are one of the most connected populations in the world, updating and upgrading our televisions, computers and mobile phones at a rapid rate.

Most businesses turn over their IT and telecommunications equipment every two years.  The life span of a television has dropped from 15 years to 2 or 3 years. Australians are now producing at least 100,000 tonnes of television and computer waste a year.  That’s over 4 kg per person or at least one mobile phone, laptop and flat screen TV a year.  Not to mention the cabling, headsets and other peripherals that go with these devices. And we haven’t even factored in other products with a plug such as microwaves, fridges, audio equipment, power tools, lighting or batteries.

Without the NTCRS, which requires all importers of televisions and computers to contribute funding towards nationwide collection and recycling, tonnes and tonnes of e-waste would still be ending up in landfill.  The NTCRS was introduced in late 2011 and since this time it has diverted and recycled more than 184,500 tonnes of e-waste from landfill. This represents a massive resource recovery effort which is also meeting consumer expectations. Growing from 10,600 tonne in 2007-08 (or 10% of waste arising), to 44,630 tonnes in 2014-15 (or 35% of waste arising), with an estimated 52,800 tonnes (or 50% of waste arising) recycled in 2015-16.

The other big upside is that community access to free drop-off sites and events has never been more convenient with the number of free public drop-off points for television and computers waste around Australia growing from 635 in 2012-13 to over 1670 in 2014-15. Recycling these products has become much easier for householders and small business.

Two other key benefits of the NTCRS are the significant role it has played in improving the standard of e-waste recycling in Australia.  Requiring a minimum of 90% material recovery and that all recyclers participating in the NTCRS must be AS 5377 certified has gone a long way in removing poor practices in the recycling industry.

The NTCRS (and the Standard) has also been a major step towards educating Australian householders, local councils, recyclers, government agencies and businesses about the concept of product stewardship and how each of these stakeholders can work together practically to meet their stewardship and environmental responsibilities in a collaborative manner.

However, the limited scope of products covered under the NTCRS means that with the introduction of an e-waste and possibly a batteries landfill ban in Victoria in 2018 the big question of how and who will pay for product not covered by the NTCRS remains unanswered.

 

Who covers the cost of the Victorian landfill ban and who will be impacted?
Significant funds will be required to successfully implement and equip the Victorian landfill ban. Educating the public, councils and businesses about the initiative, its purpose and outcomes, is an essential part of the process and needs to be backed by the Victorian Government. This will directly help councils improve the performance of waste management facilities, including transfer stations and landfill sites. Commitment to systematic monitoring, enforcement and ongoing improvement will help ensure that a prohibition of e-waste from Victorian landfills meets community expectations, council capabilities and State Government resource recovery objectives.

Where should these resources come from?  Given there are no product stewardship schemes in place for at least half of these products, it’s only fair that the Victorian Government funds activities over the short-term to inform, educate and establish the infrastructure. In parallel, the Federal and State Governments will need to engage with manufacturers and retailers of the (yet to be specified) products to form appropriate stewardship schemes over the medium-term that will fund the ongoing recovery of their products.  This is essentially why industry-funded product stewardship schemes are so vital to achieving permanent collection and recycling options for the community. To place the cost on to consumers at point of disposal will only lead to contamination of kerbside collections and illegal dumping.

It also highlights the critical importance of the upcoming review of the Product Stewardship Act and the NTCRS, and associated work being conducted on battery stewardship and photovoltaics. Australia has made a start on stewardship solutions for e-waste, however, performance and coverage still lags behinds other OECD countries, many of which have had regulated schemes for e-waste and batteries for over a decade.

 


MRI E-cycle Solutions will be exhibiting at AWRE on stand B43.