Australian Government Proposes National product stewardship scheme for solar photovoltaic systems and small electrical and electronic equipment

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The Australian Government has released a discussion paper outlining their proposal for a national regulated product stewardship scheme for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and small electrical and electronic equipment (SEEE). The scheme aims to reduce the environmental and health impacts of electronic waste (e-waste) by requiring importers and producers to take responsibility for managing their products at end-of-life.

The Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said “E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream globally. This scheme will provide Australian households and businesses with sustainable ways to dispose of their e-waste and support Australia’s transition to a circular economy.”

Under the proposed scheme, corporations importing or manufacturing SEEE or PV systems above a certain threshold would be required to join the scheme and pay fees to fund services like free e-waste drop-off points and recycling. Fees would be proportional to the amount of products imported or made.

For SEEE, the scheme proposes covering most small household electronics under 20kg, as well as all products in the existing National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. The CEO of the Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association said “This scheme would provide nationwide coverage for recycling many products currently lacking suitable disposal options, giving consumers and businesses more sustainable choices.”

Small-scale PV systems up to 100kW and ‘plug-and-play’ systems would also be included, but large-scale solar farms would be treated differently. The scheme would fund recycling of waste from existing small-scale systems but not large-scale farms installed before the scheme starts. The Clean Energy Council argued more work is needed to determine liability and handle long-term reserves given the decades-long lifespan of solar panels.

To maximise re-use and recycling, the scheme sets targets for the amount of e-waste recycled and materials recovered. It also proposes requiring convenient drop-off services, re-use promotion, and consumer education. Network operators would provide collection and recycling services to meet targets. A single scheme administrator would coordinate the scheme, check compliance, and report to government.

While the proposal addresses many issues, potential weaknesses include uncertainty around fees for PV systems, given their long lifespan, and the risk of increasing costs for consumers and investors if fees are set too high. The varied state regulations on transporting and processing e-waste could also complicate a national approach.

The Government is seeking feedback on the proposal before conducting further consultation to help shape new laws. If approved, the scheme could start in 2025, providing households and businesses with more options to responsibly manage e-waste and supporting Australia’s renewable energy transition.

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