Today’s technology is evolving at a rapid pace. So it’s no wonder that electronic waste (otherwise known as e-waste) is the fastest growing type of rubbish there is. It’s growing at three times the rate of your normal household waste and here in Oz, we’re only recycling 4 per cent of it.
In fact, we’ve already sent something like 168 million electronic gadgets to the rubbish tip. That’s a lot of wasted electronics.
What is e-waste?
E-waste is anything that needs a power point or battery to run and is dead or unloved. E-waste comes in two forms:
- Non-white goods, such as computers, printers, fax machines, scanners, televisions, VCR and DVD players, phones, cameras, media players, games consoles, kitchen appliances, power tools and lighting.
- White goods, such as refrigerators, freezers, stoves, microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, clothes dryers, air conditioners and water heaters.
It’s a toxic problem
E-waste is a very toxic problem. A pot-pourri of different chemicals go into making electronics, and these leach into our soil and groundwater as the products degrade. Some of these chemicals you may have heard about before – such as lead. Others– such as brominated flame retardants, antimony oxide, cadmium and beryllium – may sound less familiar.
Whether you’ve heard of them or not, however, they all end up in our environment and potentially affecting our public health.
It’s also a valuable resource
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. E-waste contains a lot of material that is incredibly valuable.
When electronics are thrown away, all of the energy, water and raw material that goes into making them are lost. That means that more energy and water is needed to make new products, emitting more greenhouse gas into the environment.
Some natural resources are also extremely rare. Materials such as iridium (used in plasma television sets) are running out fast.
The extraction of these materials from the earth also creates a lot of problems. These problems can be social - such as dislocating communities, creating political unrest and even war. And they can also be environmental – such as the threat posed to endangered species by mining. (For example, mining for the coltan used in mobile phones is threatening the survival of gorillas in West Africa).
Thankfully, there’s a solution
E-waste can be recycled. Plastics, glass and some valuable metals can be extracted from old electronics and used to make new ones.
Many countries have already introduced mandatory recycling or ‘take-back’ schemes, like the one we’re asking government for. If we were to introduce similar schemes here, you would be able to return your product to the place you bought it from, drop it at a designated spot or give it to your local council’s collection service. It’s self-funding and makes recycling easy.
One type of ‘take-back’ scheme is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Under this scheme, manufacturers would take responsibility for collecting and recycling their products once the consumer is finished with them.
The beauty of an EPR scheme is that it provides producers with and incentive to improve the design and manufacture of their products so that they can be easily recycled and last longer.
Industry is ready
Product Stewardship Australia (PSA) is an industry body, representing some of Australia’s leading television manufacturers. They are eager to see the development of an EPR scheme for their industry.
The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) have also signed a compact with our friends from the Total Environment Centre supporting a national e-waste recycling scheme. AIIA CEO, Ian Birks has said: “We have been pushing for government to provide a consistent regulatory framework that excludes ‘free riders’ for some time, so that we can confidently roll out a nationwide take-back and recycling scheme.”
There are already a number of e-waste recyclers in operation around the country that are ready to take on more than they currently are. MRI and the TiC Group have been operating in Melbourne for a number of years, recycling all manner of e-waste.
Our REBORN campaign has born fruit!
The only thing standing in our way was the government. And government was swayed by the voice of the people.
Tipping point: Australia's e-waste crisis, Total Environment Centre. Get into it
Recycling up, but e-waste a looming issue, ABS Media Alert. Alert me
Electronic scrap - a hazardous waste, DEWHA. Check it out