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Know the fate of your recyclables

Written by Equilibrium on 16 July 2018

Not knowing where your waste is going can lead to reputational and regulatory risks. Equilibrium explains how its networks are helping the waste industry keep track of the downstream supply chain.

In 2011-12 Australia exported 4.4 million tonnes of waste valued at $2.4 million or 0.8 per cent of Australia’s total exports, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

During that year the value of Australia’s waste exports tripled to $696 million, when compared to 2000-1 levels. While recent national figures are in short supply, the National Waste Report 2016 shows 26 per cent of Victoria’s recyclables was exported overseas in 2014-15, indicating exports still remains a key part of Australia’s waste management strategy.

Keeping track of where this waste ends up can be a challenge, much less ascertaining whether the materials were subject to environmentally sound management.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development provides a working definition of environmentally sound management as follows:

“A scheme for ensuring that wastes and used and scrap materials are managed in a manner that will save natural resources and protect human health and the environment against adverse effects that may result from such wastes and materials”.

According to Nicholas Harford, Managing Director of Equilibrium, without transparency in the downstream supply chain, recyclers leave themselves exposed to reputational and regulatory risks. The core issue is: if you’re collecting and on-selling or shipping material for recycling, do you know how it is it being recycled?

Equilibrium’s information sheet on downstream assurance services provides further detail on the process.

“Reputational risk occurs when a material that you have collected and said will be recycled is inappropriately or illegally disposed of. In the waste industry, we are all familiar with concerns about e-waste going to third world or developing nations where it’s inappropriately handled, sometimes burnt with no pollution control and at great risk to human health,” Nicholas says.

“No company wants to end up in a situation where its reputation is on the line, whether you work in council, operate a materials recovery facility or a recycling company. If you’re in local government and in collect kerbside collection, you want to be confident that the household effort is being supported by environmentally sound management.”

Nicholas explains the regulatory risk occurs through the unlawful control of hazardous material exports, and whether the end use has the correct regulatory licence or permit to operate within the country and ensure control of emissions in line with best practice.

He says it is particularly important to know where materials are going for waste streams such as e-waste and tyres. Some kerbside recyclables may also require an export or transport licence, he adds.

Nicholas says tyres may have an overlay of being potentially hazardous materials. According to the Commonwealth Hazardous Waste Act, a permit must be obtained before hazardous waste can be exported out of Australia. A basic requirement of the Act is that waste shipments may only take place between countries which are parties to the Basel Convention, except where a specific formal arrangement exists. The Australian Government has banned exports of waste for final disposal except in exceptional circumstances, therefore not knowing whether your waste is being recovered or going to landfill can leave you exposed.

Damien Wigley, General Manager, Equilibrium, explains the company offers a step-wise service to the waste industry which can help alleviate downstream supply chain uncertainty and better track waste movements.

To identify and generate downstream supply chain distribution networks, Damien says Equilibrium has used multiple platforms to inform the program and is currently considering the application of blockchain for such purposes.

“A comprehensive process is required to clearly understand the movement of waste streams initially and it can vary depending on the type of materials and where (internationally) they are being sent to.

“There may be some certification system that requires the tracking of materials and that information may be accessible by a product stewardship program or another voluntary scheme, but to understand the document trail and access it in a timely manner is complicated,” Damien says.

“We’ve invested a number of years and resources into this program, including examining numerous certification processes such as the Conflict Minerals Programme as well as the Forest Stewardship Council and how they access and develop chain of custody programs.”

An example of Equilibrium’s work is how it is assisting the Federal Government Department of the Environment and Energy and its administration of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS). Equilibrium helped the Department to develop a methodology to assess the material recovery rate of e-waste.

“We had to look at places around the world to see how the material was being recycled and ensure it was consistent with the NTCRS and specific requirements under the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations,” Nicholas says.

“We considered several certification schemes and their requirements to ensure a document trail was accessible, and to say with confidence that we knew where the material was going.”

He says it is not a straightforward process, potentially involving multiple parties who may not want to share information that they consider to be intellectual property.

Equilibrium is on hand to assist clients in developing a tailored program that is relevant to the business and meets all requirements, both internal and external.

You can download Equilibrium’s downstream assurance information sheet here.

Originally published on 13 March 2018 in Waste Management online.

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