Reimagining Rubbish as a Resource
Author: Ryan Collins
As awareness grows that our current rates of consumption and waste are unsustainable, necessity will drive the move towards a zero waste approach. To make the shift we need to innovate and think of waste materials as a resource. So how do we do that? What role do extended producer responsibility programs have? And are we ready?
According to the latest ABS figures released this month[i], while the economy grew by 71% between 1996-97 and 2013-14, waste increased by a whopping 163% and one of the consistently fastest-growing forms of waste is electronic waste. Rapid innovation, decreasing product lifespans and declining prices of both electronics and raw materials have led to more and more items being discarded.
Are we ready?
“We run a number of recycling information services and every year we see electronic waste highlighted as the most searched items, so we know that people are looking to responsibly recycle these products,” said Ryan Collins, Recycling Programs Manager at Planet Ark. “Moving towards a zero waste economy, which encompasses good design, resource conservation and closed material loops, will help reduce the rampant growth of waste to landfill.”
Overall, Australians have adopted desirable behaviours towards waste disposal and recycling. In a recent study, 82% of participants stated that they will recycle even if it takes more effort [ii].
What role does product stewardship have?
Product stewardship programs like ‘Cartridges 4 Planet Ark’ are essential in moving towards zero waste systems, as they set up the basis for collecting used consumer items and converting them from a waste product into a resource for making new products.
“Generating waste is a burden for both businesses and the environment, so reducing waste and recovering valuable materials is a growing focus for everyone,” said Collins. “'Cartridges 4 Planet Ark' is one of the longest-running examples of an extended producer responsibility program in Australia.”
Through their involvement the participating manufacturers Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Konica Minolta, Oce and Kyocera have enabled more than 31 million cartridges, equivalent to over 13,400 tonnes of materials, to be recycled since program began in 2003.
The manufacturers are also implementing a range of other changes to their cartridges and equipment to reduce waste. These include using recycled plastic in their production, adding extra-large print tanks to extend their life and developing technology to monitor and balance usage across all colours. Changes to toner chemistry also allow for quality printing with lower energy use.
Products outside the (cartridge recycling) box
Printer cartridges are sorted and, depending on their type, returned to the manufacturer for remanufacturing or dismantled, with plastics, metals, toner and ink collected for recycling by recycling partner Close the Loop®. The materials are turned into a wide range of items including commodities like aluminium, steel and over six different plastic types, new products like cartridges, pens, rulers, eWood™ used for park benches, fencing and garden beds and TonerPave™, an asphalt additive that improves the performance and longevity of roads.
If they are sent to landfill printer cartridges can take between 450 to 1000 years to break down, which is why Planet Ark campaign ambassador and seven-times World Champion surfer Layne Beachley is calling on everyone to recycle their printer cartridges responsibly.
Selfie Challenge - #WhatsNotToLove
Inspired by feedback from a participant that the program is free, easy and good for the environment, Planet Ark is asking awesome recyclers like yourself to take a selfie while recycling a cartridge in one of the collection boxes and post it on social media using the hashtag #WhatsNotToLove. You will have the chance to win one of three $200 Biome eco-store gift vouchers or one of five Planet Ark Gift Packs (ends 31st May 2016).
- Find your nearest retail drop-off location
- Find out if your workplace is eligible for a free collection box
- Take our Selfie Challenge #WhatsNotToLove
[i] Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 14th April 2016
[ii] Waste Less, Recycle More Initiative Community Benchmark Study, NSW EPA, August 2015