Electronic and Electrical Waste
Did you know?
- Australians are among the highest users of technology, and e-waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste.
- 17 million televisions and 37 million computers have been sent to landfill up to 2008 (footnote 1) .
- 99% of Australian households have at least one television set. while 55% have a second set (footnote 2) .
- Of the 15.7 million computers that reached their ‘end of life’ in Australia in 2007-08, only 1.5 million were recycled – that’s less the 10% (footnote 3) .
- The cumulative volume of televisions and computers reaching the end of their useful life is expected to reach 181,000 tonnes or 44 million units by 2027-28 (footnote 4) .
- Australians buy more than 4 million computers and 3 million televisions annually (footnote 5) .
- Older televisions that contain Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT) have more than 2 kilograms of lead and account for the largest source of lead in the waste stream. Flat screen televisions contain less lead but more mercury (footnote 6).
- If 75% of the 1.5 million televisions discarded annually were recycled there would be savings of 23,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents, 520 mega litres of water, 400,000 gigajoules of energy and 160,000 cubic metres of landfill space (footnote 7) .
What is E-Waste?
E-waste is defined as waste electrical and electronic equipment that is dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to function (including all components, subassemblies and consumables which are part of the original equipment at the time of discarding). They include:
- Consumer/entertainment electronics (e.g. televisions, DVD players and tuners).
- Devices of office, information and communications technology (e.g. computers, telephones and mobile phones).
- Household appliances (e.g. fridges, washing machines and microwaves).
- Lighting devices (e.g. desk lamps).
- Power tools (e.g. power drills) with the exclusion of stationary industrial devices.
- Devices used for sport and leisure including toys (e.g. fitness machines and remote control cars).
The Problem with E-Waste
Disposal of unwanted televisions, computer products and other electrical or electronic devices in an environmentally responsible way is becoming an increasingly important issue due to the increase in consumption of raw materials, taking up of landfill space and disposal of hazardous substances in areas where they could leach into soil and water. Over 2011-12, an estimated 29 million televisions and computers(footnote 8) across Australia reached their end-of-life. Those dumped in landfill contain valuable materials that can be recycled and re-used, as well as substances which are hazardous to humans and the environment when disposed of inappropriately.
Televisions and computers also contain valuable non-renewable resources including gold, steel, copper, zinc, aluminium and brass. The amount of gold recovered from one tonne of electronic scrap from personal computers is more than that recovered from 17 tonnes of gold ore (footnote 9) .
However, televisions and computers contain hazardous materials such as lead, cadmium and mercury, which need to be managed in a safe manner. Despite this many computers and televisions are disposed with household rubbish and end up in landfill.
Computer and television recycling entails the breaking down of the product into its various components (ie. plastics, metals, glass etc), where 95-98% (by weight) (footnote 10) of these materials can be fully recycled for future use. Many e-waste products also contain hazardous waste that requires special handling.
For example, the glass in CRT televisions contains a high concentration of lead and needs to be crushed in a contained environment, separated and cleaned. The recycled lead can be used as flux material to remove slag from newly mined lead and the glass can be used in the manufacture of new televisions and computers. Circuit boards can be shredded down to a fine powder and separated into plastics and precious metals which are able to be used for items ranging from jewellery to computer chips. Plastic casings can be turned into pellets and used for resins for new products or fuels. Scrap metals are melted down to form new metal based components.
The disposal of CRT televisions is a particular issue with the progressive closure of the analogue signal across Australia. In those places where the analogue signal has already been shut down there has been a significant increase in the disposal rate of CRT televisions.
The international movement of hazardous waste is managed by the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to reduce and regulate the movements of hazardous waste. The Basel Convention was brought into force in 1992 and over 170 countries have joined the convention, including Australia who became a signatory in 1992.
Efforts to Manage E-Waste
Over many years the Australian Government, in partnership with State and Territory Governments and industry, has developed the National Product Stewardship Scheme to promote and encourage recycling. One of the outcomes of this Scheme is the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), which is funded and run by the television and computer industry and builds on existing recycling efforts by councils, charitable and other organisations to enable householders and small business to drop-off their unwanted televisions and computer products free of charge at selected collection locations across Australia.
The NTCRS is expected to boost the recycling rate for these products from the current 17 per cent to 30 per cent by June 2013 and 80 per cent by 2021-22, providing a long-term solution to television and computer waste. E-waste collection and drop off services were introduced gradually from mid to late 2012 and will expand to cover all of Australia by the end of 2013.
The ACT became the first jurisdiction to offer services to householders under the NTCRS. From May 2012 householders were able to drop off unwanted televisions and computers for free at waste transfer stations with the knowledge that these products would be recycled in an environmentally friendly way. Hazardous materials, including lead, mercury and zinc, would be prevented from entering the environment through landfill. Valuable non-renewable resources, including gold and other precious metals would also be reclaimed for reuse.
Collection services have been introduced gradually across Australia from mid-2012 and the scheme is designed to build on existing recycling services already available. Since the NTCRS began in May 2012 there are now over 40 recycling drop off points available in the ACT, Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and NSW. Recycling drop off points will continue to roll out with the timing and location determined by the industry recycling providers.
There are also other waste management schemes in place across Australia to reduce other forms of e-waste and associated wastes from going to landfill, including:
- Mobilemuster – Mobile phone recycling;
- Cartridges 4 Planet Ark – Printer cartridge recycling; and
- Australian Battery Recycling Initiative.
Environmental Info – Waste – e-waste http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/environmental_info/waste/e-waste
E-waste – Zero Waste SA
E-Waste Fact Sheet – November 2009. Clean Up Australia http://www.carboncompass.com.au/external-solution?nid=1306
From Zero to One. Western Australia’s Transitional E-Waste Program. K.Hill.
National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme – Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/waste/ewaste/publications/index.html
National Waste Policy Fact Sheet – National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme – a guide for householdershttp://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/waste/ewaste/publications/pubs/fs-householders.pdf
ANZRP – Australia and New Zealand Recycling Program. http://www.anzrp.com.au/
E-Waste Fact Sheet – Clean Up Australia http://www.cleanup.org.au/
1 E waste Fact sheet – Clean Up Australia http://www.cleanup.org.au/PDF/au/clean-up-australia—e-waste-factsheet-final
2 Planet Green Recycling http://www.planetgreenrecycling.net.au/ewaste-growing-problem.php
3 Total Environment Centre 2008, Tipping Point: Australia’s E-Waste Crisis http://www.tec.org.au/images/e-waste%20report%20updated.pdf
4 National Waste Policy Fact Sheet http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/waste/ewaste/publications/pubs/fs-householders.pdf
5 PGM Refiners. Australian E-Waste Statistics http://www.pgmrefiners.com/about-e-waste/australia-ewaste-statistics/
6 GreenYour. Your Guide to Green Living. http://www.greenyour.com/home/electronics/television/tips/dispose-of-your-television-properly
7 Environment Protection and Heritage Council, Statement on End of Life Televisions, Nov 2008
8 Holroyd City Council. Television and Computer Disposal. http://www.holroyd.nsw.gov.au/your-city/environment/waste-and-recycling/television-and-computer-disposal/
9 Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Facts and Figures on E-waste and Recyclinghttp://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/Facts_and_Figures
10 1800ewaste http://www.ewaste.com.au/perth-ewaste-computer-recycling/