E-waste has been described as the environmental issue of our lifetime.
E-waste has been described as the environmental issue of our lifetime.

Things you can’t put in your bin anymore

AUSTRALIA is staring at a growing waste problem and new rules mean certain residents will need to take more care with what they put in their household bins.

From mid next year, Victoria's state government will enact a ban on e-waste getting dumped into landfill, following the lead of South Australia which made the change in 2013.

Stan Krpan, the head of Sustainability Victoria, wants to stop e-waste becoming the world's next plastic pollution issue and hopes all Australian states and territories will adopt similar bans in the future.

"E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world," Mr Krpan told news.com.au.

"In the next 10 years, we'll actually double the amount that we're producing, we've got to get on top of that."

The ban on e-waste ending up in landfill means consumers will need to be more careful with how they dispose of their defunct electronic goods.

"Rather than put it in a bin, or a council collecting it and putting it in landfill, you'll need to take it to a designated recycling station," Mr Krpan said.

That includes old tech gear like mobiles, TVs, laptops, tablets as well as other electronic devices like hair dryers, toasters and irons. "Basically anything with a plug or a battery."

THE TRUE COST OF OUR GADGETS

Without significant measures to reduce it, Australia's e-waste will increase from around 138,000 tonnes produced in 2012-13 to 223,000 tonnes in 2023-24.

At the heart of the issue is the harmful effects of disposing of electronic items in landfill.

As Mr Krpan points out, the problem is two-fold. Firstly, many electronic products contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, arsenic, phosphor, fluids and refrigerants.

When dumped in landfill, (particularly those that do not meet modern standards), or stored inappropriately, these hazardous materials release toxins into the air, as well as our soil and waterways.

Secondly, there is an environmental consideration that must be taken into account.

When we simply dump our old laptops in the ground we don't recover the precious metals such as copper, silver and gold which are pivotal to their inner workings. This leads to increased demand for new and expanded mining operations to source more materials.

Often located in countries with lax environmental protection laws, these mines can cause irreversible environmental damage, particularly to animal habitats and at today's rate of consumption, many of the reserves of precious metals won't last long.

The ABC’s show War on Waste recently highlighted Australia’s growing e-waste problem.
The ABC’s show War on Waste recently highlighted Australia’s growing e-waste problem.

Despite their ubiquity in modern technology, there are surprisingly few facilities to recycle batteries in Australia and to date a lot of battery material has been shipped to facilities overseas.

Australia also has strict laws to protect workers from hazardous materials and this makes it a cheaper option to export e-waste to places where those protections don't exist.

However, China recently stopped accepting waste, including e-waste from other countries and last month Thailand announced it will follow suit and also stop taking in the e-waste of other countries, highlighting the need for Australia to find homegrown solutions.

INNOVATIVE NEW E-WASTE SOLUTIONS

Australian scientists conduct some of the world's leading research looking for better ways to tackle our growing e-waste problem.

In April, researchers unveiled what has been dubbed the world's first "e-waste microfactory" at the University of New South Wales.

The machine allows discarded smartphones and computerware to be transformed into valuable materials that can be reused for 3D printing.

"Our e-waste microfactory and another under development for other consumer waste types offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age," Veena Sahajwalla, the professor behind the innovation said in a statement.

Speaking to SBS at the time, she said e-waste was a challenge not just in Australia but globally and stressed a need for a change in consumer behaviour.

"We have become sort of too complacent as a society in a global context to buy new phones and new computers and in a way not think about what happens to our old devices."

GETTING RID OF YOUR OLD TECH

We love our electronics, particularly our smartphones so we tend to keep a hold of them. As a result, we are sitting on a mountain of e-waste. There are more unused mobile phones tucked away in Australian homes than there are people in the country.

Despite the fact that tech companies like Apple have recycling programs that let customers recycle their old device for free, and maybe even get store credit, many Australians choose to hang on to their old phones.

And just one in 10 Australian mobile consumers choose to participate in the second-hand phone market, lagging the global average of 15 per cent, according to market research.

Many Telstra and Optus stores also have places where you drop off old devices to be recycled.

A growing number of device makers offer customers ways to recycle their old gadgets.
A growing number of device makers offer customers ways to recycle their old gadgets.

Earlier this year, as part of a $15 million spend, the Victoria government announced a new initiative to increase access to dedicated e-waste recycling centres beginning early next year.

The funding will upgrade more than 130 e-waste collection sites around the state. As a result, 98 per cent of Victorians in metropolitan areas will be within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point, Mr Krpan said.

For those in other states, "there's a variety of different take back schemes which have been around for a long time," he said, and more tech companies these days are offering a way to return your old devices.

Otherwise if you've got some unloved electronics, it's worth doing the right thing and do a quick Google search for a nearby e-waste business such as Cleanaway that can help recycle it appropriately.



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