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Landfills swamped with e-waste -

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Despite a recycling scheme proposal a year ago, millions of electronic products are still being
disposed of in landfills.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In Australia every year, more than 17 million televisions, computers and
other electronic products are thrown away. Our desire to keep up with the latest technologies such
as 3D TVs means current models are ending up on the scrapheap in ever increasing numbers and what's
going into landfill contains dangerous toxins. A recycling scheme was proposed a year ago to deal
with this potential crisis in what's called e-waste, but it's nowhere near being implemented. Karen
Barlow reports.

KAREN BARLOW, REPORTER: Garbage: no-one wants it and after it's thrown away no-one wants to know
about it. Fed by the insatiable demand for electronic goods, the inevitable discards are reaching
critical mass.

JANE CASTLE, TOTAL ENVIRONMENT CENTRE: The landfills of Australia are busting at the seams with
e-waste. We are buying more and more every year and we're dumping more and more every year.

NARELLE MANTLE, REVERSE GARBAGE: Councils don't wanna do it, the State Government doesn't really
wanna know about it. They're issuing flyers saying: "We will no longer take e-waste". So, that
leaves your consumer high and dry.

KAREN BARLOW: More than 17 million TVs, computers and other electronic products are jettisoned
every year. E-waste contains hazards such as lead, airborne mercury and plastics with flame
retardants.

JANE CASTLE: We have over 250 million toxic products either in landfill or on their way there every
year and there are many millions going into landfill every year.

KAREN BARLOW: This is where what's thrown into suburban bins gets another chance to shine. Items
that should have been sent for recycling are picked out by hand and machine. This is one day's
collection of e-waste from two council areas.

WORKER: Several vacuum cleaners. A keyboard that doesn't work. There's a fan over there.

KAREN BARLOW: There's a built-in obsolescence to electronic goods. They can quickly break or go out
of style. They end up in landfill or, more rarely, go to places like this.

Australia's largest e-waste recycler was opened by the Environment Minister Peter Garrett two years
ago. It takes 10,000 tons of e-waste a year and has the capacity to double that amount.

KUMER RADHAKRISHNAN, SIMS RECYCLING SOLUTIONS: We are significantly under capacity now. Less than a
third or thereabouts.

KAREN BARLOW: Some of the goods shredded here worked perfectly well or just needed light repairs.

KUMER RADHAKRISHNAN: Sometimes it might just be a problem with a power supply or a battery and the
consumer just wants to upgrade, like the digital televisions for instance now.

KAREN BARLOW: Despite the effort being made here, more than 90 per cent of e-waste still goes to
landfill.

KUMER RADHAKRISHNAN: Yeah, because it's legal to dump it now. Landfills can accept all these
things. You know, there is absolutely no law banning this stuff from going into landfill.

KAREN BARLOW: It's not in place yet, but last November the Federal Government said it would support
a product stewardship scheme. In exchange for a small increase in the cost of new electronic goods,
companies would arrange for recycling at the end of the product's days.

JOHN LAWSON, GLOBAL RENEWABLES: From just a few cents to maybe $30 depending on what sort of an
object it is and what it's made out of. The more valuable materials that go into that object, the
more it is likely to cost less to recycle.

KAREN BARLOW: The idea of a new producer responsibility has been embraced by most, but not all,
companies. It's understood two computer companies aren't keen to take part.

KUMER RADHAKRISHNAN: This is where the Government needs to step in. Eighty per cent of the
producers who are willing to pay for the product to be recycled have been requesting the Government
to ensure that this is made into a level playing field, and this is why legislation is important.

KAREN BARLOW: Depending on the parliamentary process, such a scheme may start next year, but
there's no guarantee.

New waves of e-waste are coming in all the time. 3D TVs have arrived and in a month's time the
digital TV changeover kicks off in Mildura.

JANE CASTLE: That means there are 5 million TVs on the chopping block as of the next coming few
years. Now, we have a choice here: do we send them to landfill or do we recycle them? And Steven
Conroy has a lot to answer for here because he's been badgered by the industry and environment
groups for over two years on this issue and nothing has been done.

KAREN BARLOW: The Communications Minister has reaffirmed the Government's commitment to a future
e-waste recycling scheme. In a statement, the Minister says: "TV and computer collection and
recycling schemes are expected to be operational from 2011". He also says: "It's not necessary for
viewers to purchase a new digital TV to access digital signals" and "68 per cent of Australian
households have already converted to digital TV".

NARELLE MANTLE: We're on the ground. You know, we're the ones facing it. We're the soldiers, as it
were.

KAREN BARLOW: One of the biggest not-for-profit waste recyclers is being dragged financially under
by e-waste. It's costing Reverse Garbage about $100,000 a year.

NARELLE MANTLE: What are people going to do if Reverse Garbage says no. And I mean, we're not only
servicing the individual, we're servicing the big end of town, banks, you know. We're providing
free services to schools, to hospitals. You know, the amount of schools once Kevin Rudd initiated
the new computer program, we endeavoured to take all the old computers from the state school
system. Now that - we nearly drowned under the weight of that.

KAREN BARLOW: Reverse Garbage says it can't wait for a national e-waste program. It's poised to
stop taking e-waste altogether.

NARELLE MANTLE: The reality is for seven years we've been doing this unassisted and something needs
to happen now to help not-for-profits. It's time that you came and gave us a hand. Because I could
sit here and wait for another bill to be passed and I still hear nothing.

KAREN BARLOW: Until there's a market, all this e-waste will just go to waste.

Karen Barlow, Lateline.