Electronic waste, or e-waste for short, is one of the world’s fastest growing waste streams, being dumped in landfills at record rates in Australia and across the world. According to Sustainability Victoria, an estimated 16 million TVs and one million mobile phones are discarded in Australia each year.
But rather than throwing these away, electronic goods such as unused mobile phones, old kettles or broken TVs should be recycled. Why? Because by recycling, we’re not only reducing the waste of valuable materials sitting in landfill, but recovering the materials in the items can help to save endangered gorillas.
Here’s how: Inside electronic devices is a precious mineral called Columbite-Tantalite or Coltan for short, the mining of which is frequently linked to the mass destruction of rainforests; the gorillas’ natural habitat. Because of mining and deforestation, gorilla numbers are dwindling in Coltan-rich countries such as Brazil, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some gorilla species, like the mountain gorilla, have become endangered.
This year’s World Gorilla Day theme perfectly aligns with Sustainability Victoria’s latest “Divert Don’t Dump“ campaign encouraging residents to recycle technological devices to reduce toxic chemicals leaching out into the natural environment and to maximise use of existing materials to reduce the need to extract virgin materials. As global demand for electronic goods soars, the volume of raw inputs required to produce the goods also soars. But through proper recycling and resource recovery, up to 95 percent of the materials can be reused, reducing waste, preserving rainforests and saving endangered gorillas in the process.
Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan said: “One of our top priorities is making sure that all Victorians understand what e-waste is and why recycling it is so important to our planet.”
“The material Coltan that keeps vital devices, like smartphones, laptops and tablets, running is not in unlimited supply. We have to do our bit to help limit the impact of the overwhelming demand for these powerful resources, for our own sake and that of our ecosystems and animals like gorillas.
“By choosing to recycle anything that has a plug, a cord or requires batteries – we can stop the degradation of gorilla’s habitats. This is why we’re working to raise awareness of this important practice ahead of the ban on e-waste being dumped in landfill. By doing this, we are playing a part in helping to protect the future.”
Coltan is an indispensable part of the production of many electronic goods and to extract it from the ground requires cutting down trees, clearing vegetation and digging and disturbing the ground in search of potential mine sites abundant with the mineral. As a result, the Congo’s Basin rainforest is now one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Combine mining with growing civil unrest in the DRC and its little wonder gorilla populations have dropped by 80 percent. Furthermore, miners have been known to kill the majestic creatures, to accelerate land clearing as well as for its meat.
Australians can help to reduce the demand for mined resources and save the remaining gorillas by taking old mobile phones, batteries, chargers, and accessories to any one of the 3,500 MobileMuster retail collection and drop-off points.
This national mobile recycling program is supported by all of the major mobile manufacturers including Samsung and Apple, telecom service providers, along with 400 councils that provide drop-off locations and collection points throughout Australia.
Spyro Kalos, Manager at MobileMuster explains: “Currently the nation-wide programme has 3,500 public drop-off points, including Telstra, Vodafone and Optus stores as well as most Officeworks and Battery World outlets.
“It is free to drop off items, and all brands are accepted. Once collected, MobileMuster then works to dismantle the entire item before sending it on for resource recovery where they are able to recycle 99 percent of materials used.“
To put things in perspective, MobileMuster estimates there are currently over 23 million unused and unwanted mobile phones lying dormant in Australian homes. That’s approximately 2,200 tonnes of metal, minerals, plastic, and glass that would be recovered. Imagine what could be produced from those valuable materials!
The Victorian Government is making it illegal to dump e-waste in landfill from 1 July 2019. Currently, residents are able to recycle TV, phone and computer e-waste at recycling centres. The government is investing $15 million to upgrade current facilities and build more recycling centres to increase capacity so all electronics can be recycled.
The campaign to raise awareness around e-waste and how to dispose of electronic items is led and managed by Sustainability Victoria with support from the Victorian government. To learn more, read this article.
Need help recycling e-waste or locating a recycling drop-off point? These free mobile apps will help.