Electronic Waste

18 Oct 2007 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation a question about electronic waste.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: For the benefit of members, electronic waste is defined as all electrical and electronic products nearing the end of their useful life. I am advised that approximately 13,500 tonnes, or approximately 9 kilos per person, of electronic waste items are disposed of each year in South Australia. These products contain many non-renewable resources, such as metals, and, indeed, some noxious chemicals, such as lead and mercury, and so on. As I understand it, currently they are disposed of mostly into landfill. Indeed, if constituents believe that they are disposing of things correctly via hard waste collection, apart from three councils those objects are going directly into landfill. I note that the minister said on radio last week that a lot of our landfills do not comply with current standards in terms of leaching into the underground. My questions are:

1. What strategies does the government have in place specifically to address the issue of electronic waste?

2. Is she aware that on the Zero Waste website some of the contacts for computer recycling include people who are known to be shipping it illegally overseas and disposing of it in developing countries in ways we would not tolerate in Australia?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:21): The issue of electronic waste is vexed. One of the things we have been doing at a national ministerial level has involved looking at corporate stewardship in respect of electronic waste, such as computers, phones and microwave ovens. We are trying to work with companies to ensure they incorporate into their retail prices responsibility for the safe waste disposal of those particular items. Work is being done at a national level. There are considerable issues around the fact that a lot of these products are imported from overseas, and many computer companies set up and sell a range of different brands rather than a single line of product. It is a vexed issue. We are aware that it does pose some quite special waste challenges. We know that electronic waste involves computers, TVs and a wide range of electrical appliances, including mobile phones. Disposal of this material into the environment is a national and international concern. New requirements in Europe are driving manufacturers to use less hazardous materials to manufacture appliances—which is a step in the right direction at least. The waste electronics and electrical equipment directive was introduced in 2003 and became operational in 2005. This directive, in part, states that the objective of improving the management of this particular waste cannot be achieved effectively by members of the states acting individually. It is clear that this is a difficult issue to deal with world wide, although some progress is being made. At present these waste products are collected at a local level through hard rubbish collections, and we will continue to work, together with my national counterparts, to find a path forward for this difficult issue.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:24): I have a supplementary question arising out of the answer. Can the minister guarantee that none of the companies listed as places for disposal on the Zero Waste website are, indeed, shipping materials overseas to be disposed of unethically in developing countries?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:25): I am happy to take that question on notice and bring back a response. To the best of my knowledge they are not, but I am happy to check that and bring back a response.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

In reply to the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (18 October 2007).

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health): I have been advised that:

The Zero Waste SA website lists companies that are established for the purpose of re-use and recycling otherwise waste materials.

 Companies listed on the Zero Waste website as places for recycling electronic waste that ship electronic waste overseas are legally obliged to comply with the requirements of the Commonwealth Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989. The Act implements Australia's obligations under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

 The object of the Act is to regulate the export, import and transit of hazardous waste to ensure that exported, imported or transited waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner so that human beings and the environment, both within and outside Australia, are protected from the harmful effects of the waste.

 This Act has provisions and requirements in relation to the export of hazardous waste to OECD and non-OECD countries. Companies are expected to comply with this law. If the Hon Michelle Lensink is aware of any breech of the law, she should report it to the Commonwealth authorities immediately.