Brisbane, Australia: The Victorian Government is making it illegal to dump e-waste in landfill from 1 July 2019. According to Sustainability Victoria, an estimated 15 million electronic items were sent to landfill in Australia in 2007-2008, and that number has steadily increased.
Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to any electronic item with a plug, battery or cord that is broken, no longer working or unwanted. E-waste includes washing machines, kettles, toasters, computers, TVs, laptops, tablets, lightbulbs, batteries and phones.
Electronics is one of the fastest growing waste streams in landfill, along with textile waste. About a million mobile phones are discarded in Australia every year with just 13 percent of Australians claiming to recycle their old phones in 2016, and 23 million unused phones being hoarded, left to populate drawers and cupboards. Furthermore, the National Waste Policy reports that 16.8 million TV and computer units (equating to about 106,000 tonnes) were discarded in 2007-2008 and is set to increase to 44 million units by 2027-2028.
The major problem with e-waste when it ends up in our landfills, is that it negatively impacts the environment; toxic chemicals leach into the ground and washes into nearby streams and waterways, polluting surrounding habitat, endangering wildlife and ecosystems. Research shows that 70 percent of toxic chemicals found in landfill come from e-waste. In her article “The Problem with E-Waste: How the Rich Industrialized Nations Deal with Electronic Junk” contributor Polly Cunanan writes:
“Improper e-waste disposal has detrimental effects on health and the environment. Your old computer monitor, refrigerator and mobile phone contains a lot of toxic substances. Mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, among others, hide in the wirings, circuit boards and connections inside these electrical products. When thrown away, these toxic chemicals can seep into landfills and may affect water sources or may be released into the air and impact the health of nearby communities.”
Aside from the environmental hazards associated with e-waste, electronic items also contain precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum that are in high demand but in limited supply. They can also contain materials such as tin, copper, nickel and zinc. Given their obvious value, these materials should be recycled and upcycled rather than disposed of. If the one million phones that end in landfill each year were actually recycled, up to 16 tonnes of copper, 350 kilograms of silver and 34 kilograms of gold would have been available for reuse and upcycling, reducing the need to extract virgin materials. In fact, Sustainability Victoria suggest that 90 percent of e-waste is recyclable.
Victorians have just 10 months to get into the habit of responsibly managing their old electronic items before the e-waste ban takes effect. This means getting into the habit of recycling, repairing and extending the lifespan of their electronic devices before throwing out. To support the transition, the Victorian Government has allocated $15 million to upgrade over 130 e-waste collection sites, build more e-waste drop-off centres and provide education and services around responsible disposal.
Co-founder and managing director of social enterprise Green Collect Darren Andrews is a strong advocate for e-waste recycling and responsible management. “You would be surprised at just how much material can be recovered from e-waste, from plastics to precious metals,” says Andrews.
“It’s important that people understand the value of recapturing these resources but also the harm they can cause if dumped in landfill. We have become an extremely disposable society, and the rate at which we upgrade tech like mobile phones, computers, laptops and TVs is rapidly increasing.
“My goal is to also encourage people to consider investing in the repair and maintenance of items so that they might last a bit longer, so that the demand for raw materials can also be reduced. As we become more aware of the finite nature of these resources we must utilise the value in existing materials to prevent further harmful impact on our planet.”
The e-waste ban will hopefully encourage people to do their best to repair and maintain their electronics rather than replacing.
If old electronics cannot be repaired and must be thrown out, it’s important that it is done so in a responsible manner by dropping it off at e-waste drop-off points and collection services across the state. Many of these centres will accept broken or unwanted TVs, phones, computers and hardware, batteries and phones. With the Victorian Government’s investment in e-waste infrastructure, more recycling facilities will be opened in 2019 to process all types of e-waste.
Want help with e-waste recycling and locating recycling drop-off points and centres? These free mobile apps will help.
The Victorian campaign to raise awareness around e-waste and proper electronics disposal is managed by Sustainability Victoria in partnership with the state government. For more information about e-waste recycling programs and plans for the future, visit ewaste.vic.gov.au or contact your local council.