Why recycle e-waste?
It’s good for the environment
All e-waste can contain hazardous materials. These can range from heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and flame retardants.
Even in small amounts, these dangerous chemicals can cause environmental contamination. But when you multiply it by millions of e-waste items being left in landfills or stored inappropriately, the situation becomes much more serious.
These substances can leach into soil and groundwater, or release into the air, creating long term environmental contamination issues. Many of these substances are particularly dangerous because they do not break down easily, meaning they stay in the environment for a very long time.
E-waste contains valuable materials
Electronic and electrical goods contain a whole range of precious materials, including:
To give you an idea, a million mobile phones contain an estimated 15–16 tonnes of copper, 340–350 kilograms of silver and 24–34 kilograms of gold. When you consider there are more than 22 million discarded mobile handsets in Australia, a number that grows by more than one million each year, it’s a lot of precious resources we’re throwing away.
In case you were wondering if you can extract those precious metals yourself... No, and it would be very dangerous to try. Many of the precious metals in e-waste need to be specially treated to separate and remove them safely.
Since many of these materials are non-renewable, once they’re gone, they’re gone. However, if e-waste is properly recycled, these materials and parts can be recycled and used again and again. By reusing what we’ve already mined, we’re not only cutting costs, we’re also reducing the greenhouse gasses created in the mining, processing and transportation of these raw materials. But if your old technology is sent to landfill, these valuable resources are lost forever.
It reduces landfill
In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide. Of this enormous figure, only about 20 per cent, or 8.9 million metric tonnes was recycled.
The rest ended up in landfill.
Hazardous and precious metals aside, this huge volume of ‘stuff’ we’re trying to hide underground is not sustainable. When you think about all the other rubbish we generate that goes to landfill, keeping e-waste out of it is a much smarter idea.