Possible ways of overcoming barriers to innovation include developing means to enable councils to more easily assess new technologies, such as the NSW DECC’s AWT Assessment Tool. However, these tools, whilst assisting in decision-making, do not overcome the major issues of perceived or real financial risks for councils that commit to new technologies. In the UK, a system of ‘ring fenced’ technology grants192 was provided to local government by DEFRA, to reduce the capital costs associated with building new technology plants, and thereby reduce the costs per tonne of the waste throughputs. This resulted in a massive program of building a wide range of AWT type plants in all areas of the UK. A similar system of Federal Government grants to Local Government could be considered in Australia, to bring councils in all states and territories to a more equitable level of technological innovation in waste management.
Innovation in waste management is not restricted to new end-of-pipe technologies to treat wastes and divert them from landfill. Tapping into the voluntary resources of the community to assist in streaming and sorting wastes before they reach any form of mechanical processing offers huge potential to recover valuable resources.
Deposit schemes for items like televisions and computers could be a cost effective way of gathering these materials in sufficient quantities to make the setting up of electronic waste reprocessing plants in the major cities a commercial reality. National product stewardship and extended producer responsibility schemes aimed at particular wastes would assist in the implementation of more advanced material processing technologies in Australia.
Due to the distances involved in transporting materials from generation points to the likely location of high technology plants (large regional centres or cities), providing financial incentives in the form of cash or credit vouchers to private individuals or businesses who deliver materials such as computers, computer monitors and other electronic wastes such as televisions would make recovery of these materials more efficient than trying to establishing broad scale collection systems.
Future product stewardship schemes could operate outside the normal waste collection chain or as part of it. Municipal and commercial transfer stations, AWT facilities and other waste disposal facilities are obvious and easy collection points for items subject to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, negating the need for separate purpose-built receiving centres.
Partnerships and joint ventures in industry are also forming to exploit opportunities. Sharp, Panasonic and Toshiba have established a joint venture to manage electronic waste recycling and collection programs. Veolia and Simsmetal jointly run an electronic waste recovery scheme for commercial customers in Australia. Recycling of the E-Waste equipment is performed at Sims E-Recycling, a joint venture set up between Veolia193 and the Sims Group. Electronic waste collected undergoes a manual dismantling process. The individual materials such as printed circuit boards, cabling, glass and plastics etc., are recovered and then processed so that they can be used as raw materials to produce new products.