E-waste is growing three times faster than general waste in Australia, according to Sustainability Victoria. In order to protect the environment and people’s health, The Victorian government implemented a ban on e-waste going to landfill, from July 2019.
With Australians discarding more than 1 million mobile phones every year, as well as more than 100,000 tonnes of e-waste a year, the ban was put in place to recover valuable materials from this waste.
Sustainability Victoria states that 1 million mobile phones contain an estimated 15-16 tonnes of copper, 340-350kg of silver and 24-34kg of gold. But much of this has been going to landfill. In 2014, Victoria generated 106,000 tonnes of e-waste. This is projected to increase to about 256,000 tonnes by 2035, according to Sustainability Victoria.
But, in a bid to do their bit to reduce the amount of valuable materials going to landfill, Sustainability Victoria interim chief executive Carl Muller said Victorians are collectively making a real effort to dispose of their old electronics properly.
In April and May, Whitehorse City Council was receiving an average of 11.3 tonnes of e-waste per month. However, in June, one month before the ban officially came into effect, local residents proactively took their e-waste to the council’s drop-off point, resulting in 16.3 tonnes of e-waste being collected – a 44 per cent increase. July also experienced a substantial spike, with 13.2 tonnes of e- waste being dropped off.
“Every action, no matter how small, can contribute to a circular economy in which we utilise the maximum value of resources from existing products and materials and reduce the amount of waste we generate,” Muller said.
“Reducing the level of e-waste being generated is everyone’s responsibility. It’s up to all of us to do the right thing. When we put e-waste in the rubbish bin, we miss an opportunity to retrieve and reuse the precious metals and reduce the amount of harmful materials we send to landfill.
“At Sustainability Victoria, we are urging Victorians to do the right thing and embrace the indisputable fact that responsible electronic-waste disposal and recycling makes more sense,” Muller told Inside Waste.
The types of products that fall under e-waste are varied and vast. E-waste is categorised as any item with a plug, battery or cord that is no longer working or wanted, and that can’t be repaired or re-homed. E-waste items include more obvious ones, such as fridges, washing machines and dryers – which Muller said are collected by most councils – as well as coffee machines, kettles, electric toothbrushes, electric razors, gaming consoles, power tools, whipper snippers and other small items with electronic components.
Muller explained that in order to ensure that consumers know which products fall under the e-waste category and the value of materials in the products, an education campaign was implemented prior to the ban.
“In preparation for the ban, the Victorian government committed $16.5million investment focusing on e-waste infrastructure ($15m) and an education campaign ($1.5m).
“Through the $15m investment, local councils are upgrading and building recycling facilities to collect, sort and store e-waste plus create a better network of e-waste drop-off points around the state,” Muller said.
Since the ban, companies such as Officeworks have seen an increase in items dropped off by customers.
While Officeworks has provided its customers with free e-waste recycling at stores for years, it saw a 9 per cent increase in e-waste collected in their Victorian stores throughout July and August, compared to the same period in 2018.
The top items recovered included old IT equipment, ink cartridges and mobile phones.
Officeworks head of sustainable development Ryan Swenson said customers want to dispose of unwanted technology responsibly as it is important to them to do so.
“We also know that they want to do the right thing, but don’t know where or how to recycle items easily, so we are in the process of making it easier to recycle items at Officeworks.
“We are currently upgrading our recycling facilities to accept more types of waste, and we have updated the store locator on our website so customers can easily see what items they can recycle at their local store,” Swenson said.
MobileMuster manager Spyro Kalos said it is important for Victorians to take stock of old e-waste lying around their homes and consider giving them a new lease on life.
“Electronic items contain so many valuable materials that can be recycled over and over again – 99 per cent of a mobile phone’s materials can be recovered, reused and repurposed – but they’re not much use when they’re sitting around at home unused,” he said.
In order to minimise the amount of e-waste produced in the first place, Sustainability Victoria suggest that people should:
- Re-evaluate to reduce –
The best way to minimise e-waste is to rethink new purchases. Before buying an electronic item, decide if it’s actually necessary. Perhaps there is one item you can purchase with multiple functions, rather than buying five separate products.
- Quality is key –
Consider investing in a good quality product that is durable and energy-efficient. Not only will the item last longer, it will consume a lot less energy and save you money in the long run.
- Maintain electronics –
By looking after electronic devices, it will increase the lifespan of the gadgets and help avoid constantly replacing broken items. Simple care and maintenance such as using a phone or laptop case, cleaning out a washing machine’s filter every few weeks or getting a vacuum serviced regularly, can minimise damage.
- Sharing is caring –
Sharing electronics that mostly sit around is a great way to give them a second life. Sharing and borrowing appliances that may only be required for one-off use will reduce the rate of consumption.
- Dispose correctly –
If an electronic item is broken and beyond repair or donation, ensure that it is taken to an e-waste drop-off point. This will help recover valuable non-renewable resources than can be turned into new products.