Achieving circular economy for the e-waste sector in Australia
Circular economy is considered as an effective system that helps gaining better resource efficiency and sustainability in the waste-management sector. In a conventional linear model, where take-make-go is the predominant nature of production and consumption for products and material use, the system focuses on recirculating the encased value of materials in a closed-loop cycle by minimizing resource consumption and eliminating waste and pollution. If a single consumable is to be named, that has high material value, and excessive generation pattern as waste, electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is found to be the most appropriate one. The relevance of waste generated from such as a stream called electronic waste (e-waste) and the circular economy has already been identified. Despite several initiatives taken to manage e-waste, the overall management system still lacks some fundamental identifications that could make the circular economy a reality, primarily where the importance of the concept has recently been understood at the policy-level. From such context, this thesis investigates four critical operational issues, (1) e-waste generation estimation, (2) product scope expansion avoiding resource loss, (3) consumer perspectives (consumption and disposal behavior), and (4) reverse logistics (the process of returning the waste from the point of generation to the point of recovery) in order to achieve circular economy for the e-waste sector in Australia, where generation of e-waste is increasing three times faster than the municipal solid waste, and only a few products are considered in the system.
The research begins with understanding the present e-waste management system in Australia, and the associated organizations and regulatory provisions. The work identifies that there is a necessity of estimating the amount of waste generation at the national level, realizing the future generation of the waste stream, its metal values, and current resource loss. On the other hand, in order to eliminate the loss, out-of-scope candidate products are determined based on product-centric material characterization mapping. Furthermore, a specific amount of e-waste generation from the products is also quantitatively assessed. Consumer behavior is considered one of the critical aspects of the circular economy, and in this thesis, three consumer surveys are performed to understand users’ perception and role in the e-waste management system. Nevertheless, national policy initiatives and operational activities should cope with new e-waste items, for example, waste solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, and from the Australian perspective, the waste generation is found critical. In the last part of the thesis, a mathematical programming model is developed and implemented in designing a reverse logistics network for the waste stream from a state-level context.
The key aims and contributions offered by this Ph.D. research include:
• a detail understanding of the current e-waste management system in Australia and its relevant scopes in terms of products and regulations
• a state-of-the-art understanding of the amount of e-waste generation, resource potential and revenue generation gap between products covered under national collection and recycling scheme, and products outside of the scheme
• estimation of waste mobile phone generation and resource recovery potential using first-hand consumer survey data
• identification of the potential candidate products that should be considered in the future ewaste management system
• product-wise e-waste generation estimation from the out-of-scope (unregulated) products
• analysis of consumer survey on consumption and disposal behavior of products currently considered in the national e-waste collection and recycling scheme (e.g., desktop computers, laptops, and television sets)
• analysis of consumer survey on waste mobile phones identifying the behaviors and proposing a redefined structure for the management system
• a mathematical model development for reverse logistics network envisioning long-term product recovery planning and focusing on waste solar PV panels
This thesis is presented as “Thesis by Publication” following the Research Training Program (RTP) guidelines and “Higher Degree Research (HDR) Thesis Preparation, Submission, and Examination policy” of the Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. In total, seven research articles are presented in the thesis, out of which four were published in the international peer-reviewed journal, and the other three papers are currently under review (after revision).
The findings of this Ph.D. work are of considerable significance to the policymakers and stakeholders in the e-waste sector in different areas of a holistic e-waste management system. The ideas and implications highlighted in the research project support the transition towards a circular economy in Australia with a specific focus on the e-waste management sector.