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Computer and Peripherals Material Project

Prepared by Meinhardt Infrastructure & Environment Group
for Environment Australia
October 2001
ISBN 0642547734

1. Introduction

The Australian electrical and electronic industry is one of the largest components of Australia's material consumption, with the turnover of products increasing dramatically in recent years. Rapid advances in information technology mean that the life of many computers and peripheral materials is limited. These advances are accompanied by decreases in the cost of both purchasing new equipment and upgrading to higher performance equipment. This contributes not only to an overall growth in the number of computers purchased, but also to many units reaching the end of their productive use within a short number of years. The disposal of obsolete machines and peripheral materials is therefore expected to become more of a problem in the short to medium term, with disposed volumes likely to grow as exponentially as has the growth in use of computers.

The environmental impacts of this have been recognised by the electrical and electronic industry, which has initiated development of a national electrical and electronic product stewardship agreement. The four peak electrical associations, the Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association (AEEMA), the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (CESA), guided by an Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council (ANZECC) working group comprised of Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments and wider industry organisations, are currently developing a Product Stewardship Strategy for Electrical and Electronic Equipment. It is intended that this strategy will address all environmental loads incurred during the life of the product, including material efficiencies and recovery at end-of-life.

The National Product Stewardship Strategy is expected to include a Computer and Peripherals Annexe, focused on issues specific to computers and peripheral materials. This project has been initiated by Environment Australia, in conjunction with the AIIA, in order to provide information upon which the framework of the Computer and Peripherals Annexe can be built.

For this project, computers and peripherals are defined as:

There are numerous types of equipment that may be considered similar to computer equipment, such as those used in conjunction with computer equipment in networked environments (e.g. dumb terminals, hubs, routers, switchers, uninterrupted power supplies). For the purposes of this project, this equipment has been considered to be distinct from computers and as such not included in the study. Consumable items (such as removable storage disks and mouse pads) are also excluded from this study.

It is important to note that packaging materials encasing computer and peripheral materials are not addressed in this project. Significant volumes of cardboard, polystyrene foam and plastic are used to supply computers, printers, scanners and peripheral equipment, and this should be addressed by manufacturers as part of their product stewardship responsibilities. However the issue of used packaging materials is the subject of the National Packaging Covenant and special regulation, viz. the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Material) Measure, and does not form part of the scope of this project.

The objective of this project is to identify opportunities for improved material use, recovery and reuse of computers and peripherals. A clear understanding of the nature and likely quantities of materials that could be available for reuse and reprocessing will provide a basis for the planning of infrastructure and program development.

This report details the outcomes of research and consultation undertaken to identify:

Stakeholders consulted during this project are detailed in Appendix E.