As North America’s first circular economy framework has begun to roll out in Canada, program designers of the individual producer responsibility model (IPR) for waste electronics and electrical equipment would do well to learn from the experiences of another common law (and Commonwealth) regime – Australia.

Australia’s IPR Model for WEEE

The Australian model, introduced in 2011, comprises a statutory framework – the Product Stewardship Act – under which any number of IPR schemes can be established and allows for industries and products to be regulated under mandatory or co-regulatory schemes or to be accredited under voluntary schemes.

Televisions, computers, printers and computer products are regulated under a mandatory scheme (Televisions and Computers IPR). Many of the elements of Australia’s Televisions and Computers IPR are commonly viewed as a success and worth emulating in North America including:

  • Liable parties (importers and manufacturers) are required to become a member of an approved co-regulatory arrangement, which is run and managed by an administrator.
  • There are a number of co-regulatory arrangements and administrators, generating competition and providing flexible options for liable parties.
  • The administrator is responsible for ensuring that reasonable access to collection services are available to the public (at no cost to the public) and that specified annual recycling targets and material recovery targets are met.
  • An administrator cannot refuse to collect or accept products for recycling on the grounds of the type or brand of the product.
  • Administrators may only contract with recycling service providers that are certified to AS 5377: the Australian Standard for the collection, storage, transport and treatment of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment. This ensures a consistent industry standard for scheme recycling providers and ensure positive work health and safety outcomes.
  • The cost of collection, recycling and recovery is born by the administrator and, in turn, the liable parties, allowing for the full product lifecycle cost to be managed through market activity.
  • The Televisions and Computers IPR is enforced impartially through an empowered government regulator.

North America’s Outgoing Command EPR’s Failings

In contrast, Canada’s outgoing command EPR model (already replaced under law in Ontario), adopted a scheme which placed the monopolistic Industry Funding Organization (IFO) at the centre of WEEE diversion, resulting in:

  • advanced disposal fees which were formula-based and category-driven, leaving no room for product lifecycle innovation;
  • dictated service providers;
  • mandated allocations of resources to service providers;
  • poor adherence to IFO-set accessibility, recycling and transport standards with little enforcement; and
  • most critically, a commonly-shared perception that IFOs and the waste authority were not transparent, entirely fair or predictable, resulting in uncertainty in the marketplace.

Australia’s Hard-learned Lessons

Along with its successful innovations, the Australia Stewardship Program has had some shortcomings which North America will seek to avoid, such as:

  • robust landfill bans across all states and territories to avoid WEEE leakage;
  • better policing of prohibitions against export bans;
  • registries for imported WEEE as part of an enhanced enforcement regime to combat illegal dumping;
  • poor accounting of material movements placing too much reliance upon self-reporting;
  • instances of fraud may lead to reduced public confidence in WEEE program and Australian Stewardship Program.

Circular Economy Framework Outward Looking

As part of the Canadian strategy for a new IPR model within a robust circular economy framework, the Province of Ontario is obliged to assess and hopefully benefit from the experiences of other jurisdictions such as the European Union and beyond.

North American WEEE regulators may well learn most of what they need from the success mix of market flexibility and regulatory enforcement found in Australia.