"GREEN LEAD" OXYMORON OR FUTURE VISION?
Cornelia Dostb, Bei Quc a Manager, b,c Interns,
The collection rates of leaded products like batteries and e-equipment still needs to be improved. According to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG), of the remaining principal end uses of lead that can be recycled, the collection rates vary between 50% (for uses with difficult access like undersea cabling) to 85% for other industrial uses (Burrell, 2005).
The challenge that remains now is how the Lead Industry, governments, industry and NGOs can help to transfer lead recycling to the formal, regulated sector.
The member states of the EU have already shown some action. In 2006 they will restrict the use of certain hazardous substances (ROHS) in electrical and electronic equipment and prohibit the use of lead in new equipment put on the market with a maximum allowable concentration of 0.1% lead by weight in homogeneous materials, with some exemptions including use in CRT glass. EU legislation addressing waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) specifies that batteries containing more than 0.4% lead by weight must be separated from waste streams and recycled where appropriate (EU 2002b). Furthermore, the European PVC industry has agreed voluntarily to phase out lead stabilizers in PVC by 2015 (EUROPA, 2005).
According to EPA (2005) each European citizen generated 14 kg of electrical and electronic waste in 1998. In total, that is around 6 million tones per year, which represents 4% of the municipal waste. Experts estimate a growing rate of electrical and electronic waste of 3-5% per year. Thus, it is the fastest growing waste stream it grows three times faster than the average waste stream. Accordingly, people nowadays are likely to generate between 17 and 20 kg each annually (EPA, 2005).
Internationally the Basel convention under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme was adopted in 1989 in Switzerland and entered into force in 1992. The need for the Basel Convention was obvious it is a legally binding international agreement that addresses the problem of the uncontrolled movement and dumping of hazardous wastes across international boundaries, especially to non-OECD countries (BAN, 2002)
Australia ratified the Basel Convention in 1992 which means that from now on the export of hazardous wastes needs permission otherwise it would be an offence under the Hazardous Waste Act 1989 (Australian Government, 1989).
Australias Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell recently stated: "I am concerned with the large and increasing volume of used electronic equipment sent to countries where we know theres a considerable cottage industry involved in recycling e-waste" "Over the past 18 months my department has been working with representatives of the IT industry, including Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), IT lease companies, recyclers and exporters to develop an acceptable set of clear criteria for defining hazardous e-waste Were all used to having computers and televisions at home and work and think little of throwing them away if they become old or broken. Unfortunately these items can contain some substances that are harmful to health and the environment, so disposal or recycling of them must be done safely." (Australian Government, 2005).
Manufacturers like Sharp and other major corporations like Intel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi and IBM have begun to work on eliminating the use of the six harmful substances that are covered by the EU RoHS directive (Sharp 2004).
But nevertheless, in much electronic equipment, hazardous substances still have to be included to make it functional. Thus the aim is to minimize the substances if they cannot be avoided, "e.g. specify lead-free solder, design the product so that it can be upgraded to ensure a longer operational life, and ensure that the product is diverted from landfill at end-of-life." (Centre for design, 2005).
To achieve the set goal a closer cooperation between all involved members of a product life cycle is required (e.g. electronic equipment and automobile manufacturers). This will be partly reached through the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Cleaner Production Declaration, that governments, like Australia and companies like BHP Research and Technology signed (UNEP, Production and Consumption Branch, 2005). The Mining Sector also initiated the International Council on Mining and Metals. Their 2005 work programme states that ICMM will undertake environmental related activities this year like the promoting and facilitating of materials stewardship, for instance the Materials stewardship outreach a guidance document on application of materials stewardship in the minerals sector and presentations to key user forums (ICMM 2005).
Role of mining companies
of mining company
In the first place the mining companies that exploit the minerals and sell it for further processing and use to the global market.
Table 3: Net Profit before tax in Financial Year 2004
BHP Billiton is one of the companies that made the most profit not only in 2004 but also in this year 2005 ($US6.4 billion total net profit including corporations in other countries) which was the highest profit figure in Australian corporate history. And further growth of net profit is expected for next year ($US8.2billion total net profit) (Freed, 2005).
But it should be more than only profit making. Since the goal of todays society is sustainable development in every respect, almost every mining company has made appropriate commitments in their environment policy. With that, companies take responsibility towards our environment and therefore have to ensure the improvement of inhabitants quality of life and level of well being especially in those areas which are mainly and directly exposed to lead.
The primary strategy for non-renewable resources, like lead, is to maximize its utility. Lead, like other related metals is theoretically infinitely recyclable. Therefore an ecologically efficient approach is needed to focus on "mining the infrastructure of society" (e.g. cars, electronics, buildings) to recapture the metals and reutilize them.
Doubling the product-life of goods would mean that only half of the raw materials and energy production is needed. This consequently would halve the amount of post-consumer waste.
Rio Tinto, like BHP and other major mining companies understand the meaning of sustainable development as they state in their environmental policy:
"Product stewardship is an all embracing term for the way we address products, their uses and management at end of life. It includes production efficiency, releases to the environment, and ecological and health risk assessments, as well as hazard classification, life cycle assessment and recyclability." (Rio Tinto 2003)
Furthermore they support communities with 5 year partnership programmes.
"Through continuing participation in forums with non government organisations and partnership programmes, Rio Tinto endeavours to contribute to emerging debates, to gain information and, ultimately, to improve performance." (Rio Tinto 2003)
"BHP Billiton businesses aim to make a valuable contribution to their local communities, not only by providing employment opportunities but also by supporting organisations that help to create a healthy and sustainable social fabric in these communities." (BHP 2005)
"BHP Billiton has a Corporate Community Program that focuses on Australian and international partnerships and projects." (BHP 2005)
BHP tries to follow that idea by implementing a Green Lead Product Certification. By designing an environmental label, products that are certified as meeting the Green Lead criteria will be easily identified (Roche and Toyne, 2003).
Manufacturers need to come up with new designs and better mechanisms to collect the recoverable material and reuse it for a more efficient and longer product life cycle. The consumers possibility to bring used products back to the producer is just the beginning of the solution-finding process. BHP, for instance, is in active discussion with a major car manufacturer to enlist them in the Green Lead cycle, both as a user of Green Lead batteries, but also to assist in the battery recovery process (Roche and Toyne, 2003).
One concept that includes the described ideas is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). One might think that with set concepts and goals we could get closer to 100% recycling. But according to Thorpe and Kruszewska (1999) "many industrial sectors are particularly alarmed at the prospect of EPR and are lobbying to dilute their responsibilities for used products. Instead of EPR, they favour Extended Stakeholder Responsibility that transfers much of their liability onto consumers, or the even weaker term Product Stewardship."
As the philosopher Immanuel Kant stated (1784) "Take the courage to make use of your own intelligence", the developing world, especially decision makers like those who are at the beginning of the lead cycle (miners and manufacturers) should take the responsibility of their produced electronic equipment, car batteries, and the like and should not see the 3rd world countries as a dumping ground, thinking to be charitable because people benefit from obtained lead out of car batteries and electronic equipment.
The reason why it has always been difficult to convince societies with theoretical logical arguments to rethink the overuse of natural resources is because of the expected concomitant drastic structural change in the economy and society. Thus, people that are directly affected refuse to accept the necessary changes because they see the loss of wealth and welfare which would be, of course, only temporary compared to the win-win situation for people and the environment at the end.
Problem and Challenge at the same time
In Australia, mining companies take a very vital role and have the responsibility for the protection of the environment from lead worldwide and many companies are already starting to take up this responsibility. However, sometimes they will face problems and challenges like:
Firstly, facing the large range of lead products overseas, it seems very difficult for them to achieve the task of a 100% recycling rate alone. Corporations along with other stakeholders such as communities and community based organizations need to enhance the mining companies influence in terms of awareness raising for the set goals of "Green Lead".
Secondly, whether the concept of "green lead" can be carried out successfully or not, it is a fact that the lead problem will continue to exist for future generations. Until there is successful implementation of the concept of "green lead" the public needs to get informed about how they can protect themselves from poisonings and immediate information and advice will help those who are already affected.
Thirdly, to maintain a transparent system in the "Green Lead" concept, mining companies need partners who can help to meet those challenges and problems. Therefore, mining companies should make use of their influence over government by suggesting and supporting an hypothecated tax. Mining companies have to pay royalties to each state in Australia and the government should make a certain percentage available to community services such as GLASS as an hypothecated tax.
The needs of people cannot be achieved through ignorance; it can only be attained through understanding. Just as most of the mining companies run community services, The LEAD Group also established a service to help people seeking lead related information. But unlike most of the mining companies the people that The LEAD Groups service helps, are found all over the world.
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Last Updated 21 August 2014