What is e-waste?
E-waste (electronic waste) refers to any item with a plug, battery or cord that is no longer working or wanted.
From your phone to your fridge, your laptop to your electric lawnmower, it covers a whole range of items from work, home and even the garden shed.
EXAMPLES OF E-WASTE
- Washing machines
- Electric fans
- Air conditioners
- Coffee machines
- Hair dryers
IT, telecommunications and TV equipment
- Mobile phones
- Remote controls
- Medical devices
- Automatic dispensers
- Fluorescent lamps
- High intensity
- Discharge lamps
- Compact fluorescent lamps
Electrical and electronic tools
- Sewing machines
- Lawn mowers
Toys, leisure and sports equipment
- Electric trains and racing cars
- Hand-held video games
- Musical instruments
WIPE YOUR DATA BEFORE RECYCLING
Before gifting, selling or recycling a phone, laptop, tablet or desktop computer, it’s essential to wipe all data and perform a factory reset in order to protect your personal information.
Why we need to recycle e-waste
It's better for the environment
E-waste is the world’s fastest growing waste streams. 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.
Over the coming years, the amount of global e-waste is expected to increase to 52.2 million tonnes in 2021, or around 8% every year.
Locally, the problem is significant too. Australians are amongst the highest users and disposers of technology. In fact, in Australia e-waste is growing up to three times faster than general waste.
In 2008, 106,000 tonnes of televisions, computers and computer products reached end of life in Australia. By 2013, this volume had grown to 138,000 tonnes. Without significant measures to reduce it, this figure will grow to approximately 223,000 tonnes in 2023-24.
In Victoria, it is estimated that a total of about 109,000 tonnes of e-waste were generated in 2015. This volume is projected to increase to about 256,000 tonnes by 2035.
While it’s important to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill, there are two other key reasons for recycling e-waste:
- It’s better for the environment
- It contains valuable materials
Most e-waste contains hazardous materials. These can range from heavy metals such as lead, and mercury to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and flame retardants.
Even in small amounts, these dangerous chemicals can cause environmental contamination. However, when millions of e-waste items are dumped in landfill or stored inappropriately, the situation becomes much more serious.
They can leach dangerous amounts of hazardous substances into our groundwater, soil, and air. As these substances, do not break down easily, the result can be long term environmental pollution.
It contains valuable materials that can be reused
Electric goods contain a whole range of precious materials, including:
While each individual object contains only a very small amount of each precious metal, this can quickly add up when we consider how many objects and devices are incorrectly disposed of or hoarded each year.
In case you were wondering, no you can’t extract those precious metals yourself. They need to be specially treated to separate and remove them safely.
And is important we do so because as precious metals they are non-renewable. Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. However, if e-waste is properly recycled, these materials and parts can be recycled and reused endlessly.
By reusing what we’ve already mined, we’re not only cutting costs, we’re also reducing the greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere by the mining, processing and transportation of these raw materials.
RECYCLE YOUR OLD PHONE
Of all the electronic devices that we use each day, none is as much loved as the mobile phone. For many of us, it is rarely out of arm’s reach.
While we love our phones, the evidence shows we also find it hard letting go of our old ones. In fact, what we do, or what we don’t do, with our old phones shows some of the big problems posed by e-waste.
MobileMuster is a nation-wide initiative for recycling disused mobile phones, batteries and accessories.
Most e-waste contains hazardous materials. These can range from heavy metals such as lead, and mercury to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and flame retardants. Even in small amounts, these dangerous chemicals can cause environmental contamination.
However, when millions of e-waste items are dumped in landfill or stored inappropriately, the situation becomes much more serious.
They can leach dangerous amounts of hazardous substances into our groundwater, soil, and air. As these substances do not break down easily, the result can be long term environmental pollution.
The underlying reasons for the global growth in e-waste volumes are a complex mixture of changing patterns of demand and faster turnover from the supply side. Some of these factors include:
- Rapid innovation in both existing and new electronics
- A decrease in built-in lifespan of electronic products
- More affordable electronics which mean products are becoming accessible to more people, which increases the number of items that will ultimately be discarded
- More complex product design which makes repair and recovery more difficult – and more expensive.
The Global E-waste Monitor reported that in 2016 only 20% of the world’s 44.7 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was documented to be collected and properly. This means that the other 80% (35.8 Mt) of e-waste was not documented. What happened to it?
According to the Global E-waste Monitor, the vast majority of it was likely dumped, traded, or recycled under inferior conditions. While it is difficult to know exactly where all this e-waste is dumped, we do know that each year thousands of tonnes is shipped to developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Much of it then ends up in toxic dumps where people use dangerous techniques to try and extract precious metals like gold, silver and copper. The health problems that can result from exposure to these dangerous practices can be life-threatening.
You can learn more about the global environmental and social effects of the dumping of e-waste and the efforts to clean it up by watching the World Economic Forum's video 'E-waste: Cleaning Up The World's Fastest-Growing Trash Problem'.
There are numerous useful and/or valuable materials in e-waste which can be recycled such as gold, silver, copper, aluminium, platinum and cobalt which can either be used to produce the next new wave of technological innovation, or simply be recycled elsewhere. Most importantly, they should not be lost to landfill.
The way e-waste is processed can vary between recyclers. In general, mercury, plastics, printed circuit boards, ferrous metals and aluminium are separated from e-waste for recycling.
The circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy in which products are manufactured, used and then disposed of. This is often dubbed the ‘take-make-dispose’ economy.
The circular economy differs because it seeks to keep resources in use for as long as possible, obtain as much value from them while they are in use, and then recover as much of the resources as possible once they have reached the end of their useful life.
E-waste is a key ingredient in the circular economy. This is because over 90% of all e-waste can be recycled and the precious metals it contains – such as gold, silver and platinum – can be used over and over again.