The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations went into force last year but presented recyclers with a new challenge. To claim mandated recycling fees from different producers, it is necessary to carefully track and report the nature and source of all incoming e-waste.
This comes at a high cost because recyclers have to improve their sorting processes. They need to record the total volume of material received for recycling per producer.
An example is probably the best way to illustrate this. DESCO often sends trucks out to our corporate clients to collect a load of e-waste. Going out and coming back, the truck will always pass over our weighbridge so that the second weighing will reveal how much, by total weight, has come in.
So a truck comes in with two tonnes of material from a company that has multiple producer products. How do we know how much of the waste total belongs to the different producers: i.e. how much is Samsung’s vs how much is Dell’s?
The answer is that we have to sort it and then weigh each portion of the original load per producer. We must also record and photograph serial numbers of incoming e-waste. It’s a time-consuming and costly process, which the recycler must incur to produce a comprehensive report.
But the payoff is that DESCO can provide the producers and their PROs (Producer Responsibility Organisations) with a very detailed report. It reveals exactly how much of the material we handled was produced by them. So, not only does it disclose the exact amount that they need to pay, but it’s a completely transparent process.
Of course, the additional time, labor, systems, and data storage resources that this all requires is what increases our cost burden. But, as the regulations intended, recycling costs are mitigated by recyclers being reimbursed by producers for recycling goods that they manufactured and/or distributed in South Africa.
Unfortunately, and probably inevitably, some producers are gaming the system. They use recyclers who have not invested in the sorting and information capture processes and systems.
This allows them to become “free riders,” which means they avoid paying processing fees and shift the burden to the producers who are satisfying their obligations under the legislation. And it puts the entire EPR scheme at risk.
But when recyclers put in the required systems and processes, like DESCO has done, free riders can’t hide or evade the EPR scheme.
For context, this legislation is crucial to our aim of becoming a circular recycling economy and to reduce our impact on the environment. Remember that every kilogram that is recycled is a gram that doesn’t have to be mined.
So it’s important to ensure the sustainability of the systems that make it work. There are only two ways to do this:
- Recyclers must invest in the necessary sorting, classification, and reporting systems; and
- Producers must only use recyclers that have done so.
In this way, we can eliminate the free riders. And the producers who do comply with the regulatory requirements will not have to carry the financial load for everyone else.
The message to producers and PROs is: choose your recycling partners very carefully. Make sure they are licensed and have the necessary processes and systems to provide transparent and detailed reporting. In that way, you will not be overbilled on your own waste streams or, worse, billed for another producer’s mandated waste.