Fun with Waste: Transforming e-waste into post-apocalyptic landscapes

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong uses his photography as a way to make a positive social impact. Thought-provoking as they are beautiful, Von Wong’s high-concept series are innovative in their use of materials.

For his e-waste landscapes project, Von Wong used 1,800 kg of e-waste to create post apocalyptic landscapes.  The significance of the 1,800 kg explained Von Wong in an interview in My Modern Met, it that it equals the approximate amount of e-waste an American might use over their lifetime.

Ontario Government’s Proposed E-Waste & Battery Regulations

The Government of Ontario is consulting on proposed regulations for specified waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and used batteries under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016.
 
The new regulations will affect participants of the current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Program operated by Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES).
 
The Ontario government has directed OES to wind up its operations to support the transition of the current waste diversion program for electronics to a new system that makes producers environmentally accountable and financially responsible for their products at end-of-life.

The proposed regulations would require:

  • producers to establish free collection networks for consumers
  • producers to achieve resource recovery (i.e. reduction, reuse and recycling) targets
  • producers to provide promotion and education materials to increase consumer awareness
  • producers and service providers to register, report and keep records and meet other requirements

The regulations would also encourage producers to reduce waste associated with the regulated products they supply into the Ontario market.

Review the draft regulations and register for a consultation webinar.

The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority will be the regulator mandated by the Government of Ontario to enforce the requirements of the new WEEE and used batteries regulations once they take effect.

Ontario Electronic Stewardship will continue to operate the current program without disruption until the proposed regulations take effect.

Ontario: Orphaned Eco-Fees Raises Legal Questions for Electronics Industry

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by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie

Ontario’s waste electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) stewardship obligations are being transitioned to a circular economy legal regime.  The government-overseen e-waste program is being wound-up and will effectively cease as of June 30, 2020. The program has managed to generate such a surplus of funds from consumers it otherwise would pay the electronics recycling industry that it’s obtained approval from the Ontario government to grant the industry, and presumably in turn, consumers a “fee holiday” in order to expend the surplus. The fee holiday started on February 1st, 2019 and runs until June 30, 2020.

This means no eco-fees (or Environmental Handling Fees) on electronics are to be charged and remitted for the next 17 months when the program ends.

No Relaxation For Electronics Industry During Fee Holiday

But what if the electronics supply chain and retailers somehow continue to pass the now orphaned eco-fee down the supply chain and ultimately to consumers in spite of industry’s inability to remit it.  Most consumers will not likely be aware of this reprieve in obligation. Most suppliers and retailers have systems already programed to charge the fee. It’s not clear any regulatory authority is actively policing industry on this. So if it’s business as usual in electronics sales, where will the money go and what are the risks?

Whose Money Is it Anyway?

The e-waste program, like all government-overseen plans in the province, funds its ongoing program costs with an eco-fee cost imposed upon consumers. The rates are rigidly set and the supply chain and retail parties simply pass the eco-fee through to point-of-sale and then remit to the program. No risks or rewards are assumed by these parties and there is no opportunity to internalize or otherwise alter the eco-fee for competitive or profit purposes.

The fees have not been, and cannot credibly be claimed as, margin adjustments when charged in an identical manner to unwitting consumers.  It would be difficult for industry to claim title to the monies, whether as an advance or an investment. The monies are simply consumer overpayments relative to the costs of the soon-to-be-defunct program, and the amount at issue is not insignificant. Orphaned eco-fees which could be passed to consumers during the holiday could potentially be as high as one hundred million dollars.

Duty of Care for Orphaned Eco-Fees

As the e-waste program can no longer accept eco-fees charged after February 1st, 2019, it raises questions as to what proactive measures the electronics industry, including brand owners and importers, must take to ensure no such fees continue to be passed on to consumers who should otherwise be enjoying the fee holiday they’ve effectively funded.

Ignorance of the holiday may not protect electronics companies. Through their participation in the e-waste program, industry will be deemed to have knowledge that any post-February 1st, 2019 eco-fees are effectively orphaned.  Nor are any parties clearly insulated from risk. Continued charging of the eco-fee by supply chain parties, effectively compelling retailers to recapture the costs from consumers, may also create legal uncertainty. All parties may have a duty of care here.

Be Neither Recipient Nor Beneficiary of Orphaned Eco-fees?

Resetting systems and processes to eliminate the eco-fee will be laborious. Instead, some parties within the electronics industry may be inclined to accrue the orphaned eco-fee for a future mutually-beneficial use, such as supporting industry-segmented private producer responsibility organizations which will rise from the ashes of the government program. This, however, may appear as industry doing indirectly what it cannot do directly and may not be defensible if and when someone comes asking about the treasure trove of orphaned fees.

It’s clear that the 17-month fee holiday journey to a private circular economy model for electronics provides no time off for industry.  It must act now to address any unsanctioned charging of orphaned eco-fees.  The holiday has already started.


About the Author

Jonathan D. Cocker heads the Firm’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of firm Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environment, health and safety matters, including product content, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, extended producer responsibilities and contaminated lands matters. He appears before both EHS tribunals and civil courts across Canada. Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on EHS matters, an active participant on EHS issues in a number of national and international industry associations and the recent author of the first edition of The Environment and Climate Change Law Review (Canada chapter) and the upcoming Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (Chemicals chapter).

UN Report Highlights Environmental, Health Risks from E-Waste

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As reported by the IISD, Seven UN entities released a report calling for a new vision for e-waste based on the circular economy. The report highlights that annual e-waste production is worth over USD 62.5 billion, underscoring the significant opportunity in moving towards a circular economy.

The report titled, ‘A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot,’ finds that the global economy generates approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste annually, or approximately six kilograms per person on the planet. Less than 20 percent of this e-waste is recycled, resulting in global health and environmental risks to workers who are exposed to carcinogenic and hazardous substances, such as cadmium, lead and mercury, and to soil and groundwater, which are contaminated by e-waste in landfills, placing food and water systems at risk. Low recycling rates also contribute to the loss of scarce and valuable natural materials: for example, up to seven percent of the world’s gold may be currently contained in e-waste. Under a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, the UN University (UNU) predicts e-waste could nearly triple to 120 million tonnes by 2050.

“There is a trail of e-waste generated from old technology” that needs to be addressed, the report states. One-half of all e-waste is personal devices, such as smartphones, screens, computers, tablets and TVs, and the rest is household appliances and heating and cooling equipment. Europe and the US generate nearly one-half of global e-waste annually.

The report argues that systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), civil society and other stakeholders is necessary to change the system and reduce e-waste. The report calls for a circular economy in which resources are valued and reused in ways that create decent, sustainable jobs and minimize environmental impacts. To capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and circular value chains, the report suggests manufacturer or retailer take-back programs and better product tracking. The report also recommends developing recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains. Further, the report explains that cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) can support gradual de-materialization of the electronics industry.

The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PAGE) produced the report on behalf of seven UN entities that collaborate on the E-waste Coalition: the ILO; the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); UNEP, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), UNU and the Secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions, with support from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The UN launched the report at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland. 

Ontario: Electronics & Batteries Producer Responsibility Consultation Ends February 6th, 2019

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As part of the legal directive to transfer current government-overseen waste diversion obligations to a privately-run Individual Producer Responsibility regime (IPR), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment is currently holding consultations with stakeholders in the electronics/electrical equipment (EEE) and batteries industries regarding the coming circular economy regulation for EEE and batteries (and their packaging) and key decisions affecting industry are in the process of being made.

What’s the Mandate?

In understanding the anticipated reach of the EEE/Batteries Regulation, the Ministry is overtly promoting three goals:

  • Improved Environmental Outcomes, including reduction of toxics in landfill and related greenhouse gases;
  • Economic Growth, such as building more “infrastructure for reuse, refurbishment and recycling industries”; and
  • Consistency, Ease, Cost Efficiency and Reduced Burden, with an emphasis on shifting the costs of waste management to individual producers and consumers with the hope that more “competition, innovation and better product design” will result.

To help relieve municipalities of waste handling obligations, and to get itself out of the business of end-of-life product diversion (which it seems intent on doing), the Ministry is giving the EEE/Batteries Regulations a potentially broad and expansionist scope. As of July 1st, 2020, EEE and batteries “producers” will be compelled to resource recover the products (or equivalencies) they put into the Ontario market.

What Could Be Caught under the EEE/Batteries Regulation?

It seems likely that the product categories of one or both of these current diversion programs will be broaden under IPR to include the:

  • likely expansion from the existing 44 types of EEE to capture some or all of:
    • headphones;
    • routers;
    • large and small appliances; and
    • power tools and some categories of lighting.
  • near certain addition of rechargeable batteries;
  • maybe very limited types of EEE and/or batteries embedded in other products; and
  • remote prospect of obligating primary, convenience and/or transportation package used with EEE and/or batteries – given paper/packaging IPR has not yet been implemented in the province.

The addition of products not currently obligated under waste diversion will create immediate needs and opportunities for industries to find new resource recovery solutions to meet these needs.

Who’s Obligated under IPR?

Along with the group of currently obligated producers – namely resident brand owners and resident importers (and, for EEE, assemblers), the Ministry is considering adding one or more other parties which have a “commercial connection” to the products, such as non-resident:

  • importers;
  • wholesalers;
  • licencees;
  • retailers (including on-line out-of-province); and
  • distributors

Many of these companies would not necessarily replace any existing resident parties, but would, instead, be default-obligated for products with no resident “producers”.  The sanctions contemplated for non-compliance under the EEE/Batteries Regulation may well include a prohibition against the sale of products failing to meet their resource recovery targets.

Will it be Like the Tire Regulation?

More than a year ago, stakeholders in the EEE and batteries space were already paying close attention to the Ministry’s implementation of the Tire Regulation, North America’s first comprehensive circular economy law.  Given the breadth of obligations, including the producer’s private obligation to run a reverse supply chain, it’s anticipated that affected companies may respond similarly – coalescing around a limited number of producer responsibility organizations based upon commercial, industry, and market commonalities, to run end-of-life product networks that meet the unique needs of the separate producer groups.

Industry also learned through the Tire Regulation process that critical commercial outcomes can be based upon the content of the regulatory requirements and that full advantage should be taken of the windows of opportunity offered to engage the Ministry on key facets of the coming law.  One such window for EEE and batteries stakeholders is closing on February 6th, 2019.


This has been republished with the permission of Baker MacKenzie. It was first published on the Baker Mackenzie website.

About the Author

Jonathan D. Cocker heads the Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of its Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining & Infrastructure groups. He participated in founding one of North America’s first circular economy producer responsibility organizations. Jonathan is a frequent speaker and writer on EHS matters, an active participant on EHS issues in a number of national and international industry associations, and most recently the author of the first edition of The Environment and Climate Change Law Review (Canada chapter) and the upcoming Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (Chemicals chapter).

Canadian Electronics Makers at Risk with e-Waste Exports

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by Jonathan Cocker, Partner at Baker McKenzie

“Canada continues to allow exports of hazardous e-waste to flow to developing countries (in this case, China and Pakistan)… These are all likely to be illegal.”
Export of e-Waste from Canada, October 10th, 2018, Basel Action Network

The release of this report by the Basel Action Network, subtitled A Story as Told by GPS Trackers, has thrown a veritable thunderbolt into the midst of the waste electrical and electronic equipment recycling industry in Canada (and beyond as these issues are not unique to any one country). Not only are current stakeholders engaging in the continued export of toxic materials to unlicensed (and unregulated) locations in developing countries, but these exports may well violate one or more laws, including national laws adopting the original Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

e-Waste Monopolies and the Limits of Due Diligence
A question arises as to how manufacturers of electronics could allow their products and their industry representatives to engage in these exports long after the harmful environmental and societal impacts of such exports have come to light and addressed through international agreements. The answer lies in their proximity to the compliance activities undertaken on their behalf. In Canada, the makers of electronics are mandated to participate in a single government-approved WEEE recycling organization in each province. Decisions around this reverse supply chain are simply too remote to many in the electronics industry.

More importantly, there is too little incentive for the government designate to rigorously oversee the end-of-life compliance of the waste they transfer, as painfully demonstrated by the Export of e-Waste from Canada Basel Ban report. Instead, the organizations can rest upon the recycler qualifications and standards as due diligence and blame the bad apples when these scandals come to light. Their compliance mandate can be viewed as essentially process, not results, driven and they have little organizational risk, as the monopoly party, in whatever mischief happens thereafter. Equally, individual electronics manufacturers aren’t invested in the environmental outcomes as they are not at risk. It’s no coincidence that the report itself does not name one electronics company as culpable.

Electronics Industry Facing Coming Individual Producer Responsibility
Ironically, it is the Canadian e-Waste government designates which will lose their monopoly positions in the marketplace under the coming individual producer responsibility model (IPR) for many waste streams, including electronics. Under IPR, it will be individual producers who will assume direct responsibility for the proper resource recovery of the electronics they place on the market. These electronics companies will retain the liability for outcomes such as illegal shipments to:

“an area well documented as being a global e-waste trafficking and smuggling hub.”

The risks to the electronics industry participants become real, both regulatory and reputational, truly motivating them to ensure that their oversight role doesn’t end at a qualification program, in the same way that international brands in many other industries are increasingly scrutinizing their (front end) supply chains. Canada’s Province of Ontario will have IPR for e-Waste in 2020.

Small(er) Is Beautiful in Managing e-Waste
To conduct this kind of effective auditing and verification, electronics makers will want to stay closer to their reverse supply chains (and potentially lucrative secondary markets) through individual or smaller, market-segmented groups to best structure reverse supply chains which meet their individual or group needs. Leaving it in the hands of a single monolith entity acting on behalf of a myriad of parties, from manufacturers to retailers and everyone in between, across the broad spectrum of waste-relegated electronics and electrical equipment, will continue to prove ineffective in ensuring e-Waste compliance. It will be up to the producers themselves to finally bring these e-Waste exports to a permanent halt.

This article was originally published on the Baker McKenzie website.

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About the Author

Jonathan D. Cocker heads the Firm’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of its Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining & Infrastructure groups. He participated in founding one of North America’s first circular economy producer responsibility organizations. Jonathan is a frequent speaker and writer on EHS matters, an active participant on EHS issues in a number of national and international industry associations, and most recently the author of the first edition of The Environment and Climate Change Law Review (Canada chapter) and the upcoming Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (Chemicals chapter).

Global E-waste Disposal Market Status and Outlook 2018-2025

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Orbis Research, a market research company, recently published an updated report on the global e-waste Recycling market.  This report provides detailed historical analysis of global market for E-waste Recycling from 2013-2018, and provides extensive market forecasts from 2018-2028 by region/country and subsectors. It covers the sales volume, price, revenue, gross margin, historical growth and future perspectives in the E-waste Recycling market.

Included in the report is a profile of the leading players of e-waste recycling including Sims Recycling Solutions,
Eletronic Recyclers International, GEEP, Waste Management, and Veolia.

The report describes the market into sub-sectors by type of equipment (infocomm technology (ICT) equipment and home appliances, and other types of equipment), by application (i.e., refrigerators, televisions, computers, etc.) and by sales channel (direct vs. distribution).

In the report, there is information on e-waste recycling in various regions and countries including North America,
Europe, Asia-Pacific, South America, and the Middle East & Africa.

Nigerian e-waste recycling facility

Previous Global E-Waste Management Market reports performed by competing market research companies predicted that the global e-waste recycling market to be worth $49.4 billion by 2020. It is one of the fastest growing waste streams in emerging as well as developed regions.

Another market research company, Grand View Research, Inc., issued a global e-waste market report in the summer of 2018 which forecast h 63.705 million tonnes  of e-waste would be recycled by 2025.  The Grand View Research report warned that the high costs associated with e-waste recycling is expected to hinder the market growth. The report also stated that  the procurement of high-end machinery to effectively recycle the scrap coupled with instructing the workers about the meticulous execution of every step remain to be the major hurdles in the growth of the e-waste management market. However, the report was optimistic that the e-waste recycling market would continue to grow as the awareness about the hazardous effects of e-waste on human health along with strict regulations concerning the generation and treatment of e-waste in a majority of countries are expected to reduce the effect of the challenges.