We need to talk about e-waste...

Launching our new interview series - 'Straight from the horse's mouth' interviewed Stan Krpan, Chief Executive, Sustainability Victoria, with an aim of keeping the conversation going on resource recovery and waste.

We would be lying if we said we’d not wished we could close our eyes at times at the thought of the absurd levels of tech wastage directed into landfill here in Australia – over 20 million tonnes every year.

It would be enough to make my Grandma turn in her grave; the dearest lady in the world who used to rinse off tin foil, pop a tea towel over it and iron it flat again, for use on another dish, for another day.

But that mindset has changed. Somewhere along the way things blew out and we ‘produced’ quicker than we could ‘protect’. At PonyUp, we’re so enthused to be working with some of the smartest minds in sustainability, technology and product stewardship, who are doubling down on their efforts to help us make up time – crafting innovative, elegant solutions and laws around how we responsibly treat our retired tech into the future.

It’s sometimes easy for us to become lax, once we’ve been distracted by the newest, shiniest thing or by device upgrades, which give our business the next uber level of IT grunt.

We decided that we needed to keep the conversation going and launched an inaugural interview series, ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’, which aims to shed light on the education and behavioural change that’s needed to bring further focus on the responsible management of decommissioned technology and e-waste. PonyUp recognises the importance of this phase in any business’ strategy for the adoption of new practices.

We sought out a diverse group of individuals to interview, who are firmly focused on enacting or legislating change in the environmental and sustainability sector, to share their views and guidance on the strategies required by big business, to bring about significant, consistent and meaningful change.

With a ban on e-waste to landfill already in place in South Australia, and Victoria likely to follow suit with a plan to be announced next year, we decided to kick off our series with Stan Krpan, chief executive of Sustainability Victoria (SV), which will play a vital role in facilitating this transition and developing initiatives to drive behavioural change across business and the community.

Indeed, PonyUp will be using the SV plan to assist our clients in navigating through this new legislation and change. It's a plan companies can hang their 'environmental impact hat' on. Its a long game to tackle a significant environmental issue, but I think we'll be doing Grandma proud...

PonyUp for Good: SV’s 2015-20 priorities are well underway. If we jump ahead to 2025, what is your vision for how behaviour has changed among businesses in Victoria?

Stan Krpan: In the next five to 10 years, we want to influence and support more Victorian businesses in their decision-making to use resources more sustainably and to take practical action on climate change.

We know that 73 percent of consumers say they are interested in buying goods and services from businesses that are sustainable and taking their own actions on climate change. This huge latent demand is currently unmet – but is full of opportunities. I look forward to new businesses, new business models and innovative products and services, which are going to meet this demand. That will take some vision and courage, but we know Victorians are entrepreneurial and we have some very innovative businesses.

Businesses will also be very conscious of the benefits of being more productive and efficient with resources like energy and materials.

It is clear from all of the planning and feedback from industry in the development of SV’s 2015-20 priorities, that we can do more to increase recovery rates, particularly in the commercial and industrial waste streams. This includes new technologies and innovations, which will increase processing capacity and reduce contamination. We are seeing strong interest in new investment by existing companies as well as new entrants, many whom are looking for new opportunities.

This approach shifts the thinking from end-of-life concepts towards practices that are ‘restorative’ and support materials and components being reused or recycled many times over.

What have been some of the unexpected hurdles in delivering on these priorities to date?

Each year presents new challenges. As Victoria’s population grows, so too does the waste we produce and so it is vital that we remain one step ahead and continue to plan for the future. Projections show that our population could rise from 5.8 million to 8.9 million by 2043 and, based on current trends, we’re likely to see total waste generation almost double from 12 million tonnes (2011-12) to 20 million tonnes per year by 2043. Victoria already has a long-term plan – the 30-year Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan – to guide future planning for waste and resource recovery infrastructure for our state and ensure valuable materials are recovered from waste streams.

The complexity of this area, means the lead times on market development, new infrastructure or innovation can be long. Although SV and the Victorian Government are already working on a range of initiatives in this space, we need the continued support of industry, local government and businesses to drive growth and provide confidence in markets for recovered resources in order to create investment in new technologies, products and jobs for Victoria.

Industry, local government and peak bodies have been very generous with their advice and support to SV (and the State Government) in the development of policies and programs in recent years. I am looking forward to continuing this with a real focus on implementation and improved outcomes. Ultimately, we all want the same things – a better environment. This is assisted by a strong, robust and innovative sector.

One of the misconceptions of sustainability is that either consumers don’t care, or it costs too much. Our social research and experience dispels this.

Often the sustainable alternative might be more difficult, but taking the long view reveals that it costs less. There are also risks and costs in maintaining the status quo, and consumers and the community are expecting a lot more leadership now from businesses.

Reciprocally, what have been some of the unexpected benefits?

It has been encouraging to see how strongly Victorians support sustainable efforts and are taking action in using their resources more wisely. Our TAKE2 climate change pledge program has attracted great interest from businesses, local communities, individuals and local government. To date, over 4830 Victorians have pledged to take action against climate change, with 330 businesses getting involved. These TAKE2 businesses employ more than 267,000 people across Australia and have more than nine million customers.

We have seen some great partnerships from unlikely partners such as businesses and community groups formed through the program and our events. I am looking forward to seeing that sort of cross-sectoral collaboration continue to grow and the initiatives it might spark.

In 2016 the Victorian Government announced its plan to ban e-waste from landfill in Victoria. How do you anticipate Victorian businesses will be impacted?

Sustainability Victoria has a key role to play in facilitating this transition and developing initiatives to drive behavioural change across the community.

SV is working with community groups, industry and government to develop education programs, which improve resource recovery and support correct disposal of waste. We will particularly highlight the risks of e-waste in landfill, the valuable and often rare resources that it contains, which can be recovered, and the ways of disposing of this material so that it is properly recycled.

The Department of Environment, Land and Water Planning (DELWP) will lead on the regulatory aspects of Victoria’s approach to an e-waste ban.

In alignment with the EPA’s hierarchy to Avoid > Reduce > Reuse – before Recycling – what do you feel will be the greatest motivators for businesses in getting behind the ‘reuse of devices/technology’?

Every organisation and business is different in terms of what drives and motivates them. However, in general, financial and environmental factors often come into play. By donating their unwanted or outdated hardware for reuse, businesses can help to keep these electronics out of landfill. Where organisations, such as PonyUp for Good, can offer secure data destruction with a social impact, this may drive people to do the right thing and donate their unwanted devices to be reused rather than just sending them to landfill.

What motivates you the most, personally, about SV2020 to do what you do each day?

I feel a great sense of responsibility to do as much as I can every day to preserve our environment for future generations. I believe that in order to maintain our way of life, businesses will need to transform and adopt new business models, which will create the jobs of the future. They will design the new products and services, which will be better for the environment and for our own health. I know that deep down people care – for the environment, for each other and for the future.

Our job is to show them they can do something, to make that something easier and more attractive and better for us than the status quo. To do this, we want to reach and impact as many people as possible. We know that the transition to a low carbon future will require the community to be engaged and mobilised and I really love that aspect of our work. In the transition some vulnerable parts of our community will be disproportionately affected and I am motivated to support them in our work and in that transition.

Written by: Mardi Brown & Cat Harding - Co-founders, PonyUp for Good

This article first appeared in CWS Magazine with the kind support of Journalist Michelle Dunner