What to do with your e-waste

Living Well | Jan Fisher | Posted on 06 March 2019

How to recycle e-waste in Victoria.

Australians love their tech. We are a nation of early adopters, eagerly pouncing on the latest releases, giving everything a red hot go, even those we’d rather not talk about. Laser discs, I’m looking at you.

But the waste generated from all this gleeful consumerism is staggering. It’s estimated we produce about 600,000 tonnes of e-waste each year.

We need to work harder at solutions for all this rubbish and we need to get cracking because the Victorian government has banned e-waste from landfill from 1 July, and China’s ban on buying any more waste has laid bare the shameful secret that there is very little e-waste recycling done in Australia. The state government is spending $15 million to upgrade its e-waste network, but there is plenty householders can do.

Firstly, what is e-waste? It’s defined as any item with a plug, battery or power cord that is no longer working or wanted. So it covers televisions, fridges, hair dryers, cameras, computers, computer equipment, phones, fax and copy machines, CD and DVD players, game consoles, your nan’s VCR, fitness trackers, batteries and many more items. 

Why should we care where it ends up? Well there are plenty of nasties in e-waste – a standard cathode ray tube used in many televisions contains about two kilograms of lead – but there is also plenty that could be recycled such as gold, silver and copper. 

Before making any decisions, consider the three Rs of waste disposal. Reduce, re-use and recycle.

Abandoned computer monitors form a mountain of e-waste.


Recycle

At first glance, there are loads of options to recycle your e-waste, but the lack of transparency surrounding this issue is causing headaches for those trying to do the right thing. Most e-cycling organisations and councils can give you plenty of information as to why recycling is good, and can link to thousands of drop-off points in Australia, but are short on detail as to how and where your stuff is recycled. 

China’s ban on importing waste has governments at all levels scrambling to catch up and much of the e-waste currently going into the waste stream is being stockpiled. The best advice is to do your research. Contact the organisation directly to ask where and how your product will be recycled.

One Victorian success is Envirostream Australia in Gisborne, which recycled 240,000 kilograms of batteries last year. Envirostream developed the technology over two years and their two units can process 40 tonnes of batteries per unit, per month, breaking them down into steel, copper, aluminium and mixed metal compounds. The processing units are modular and can be installed just about anywhere with enough space so Envirostream is well placed to build more of them if needed. Batteries can be dropped off at participating BatteryWorld shops, through Mobile Muster and Officeworks.

But until Australia shores up its e-cycling network, perhaps the better option is to re-use and reduce. 

Re-use

Just give it away. You might be surprised who wants your old phone, printer, computer or camera. Many charities welcome working donations. The Salvos and Sacred Heart Mission stores will accept electrical goods, however Vinnies will not accept any electrical item with a heating element. Double your karma points by donating to Computerbank in West Melbourne. They refurbish computers and sell them at a vast discount to concession-card holders, while products too old or damaged are stripped for recycling. Depending on what you have to donate it may also be worth contacting Technical Aid for the Disabled, which tailor-makes products for disabled people.

And there are plenty of online sites such as Gumtree or Freecycle, to help you give away your items. You could announce on social media that you are giving stuff away. People love free stuff. 

Reduce

Do you need the latest model? If your phone does all you want, do you really, truly, desperately require the next update? Have a long hard think about why you want to buy the latest update. Is it ego or do you genuinely need it? 

Also consider buying second-hand, there is plenty of tech out there that could suit your needs at a fraction of the cost of new.

And lastly, few people could not lay claim to a stash of mystery cables. Try getting some money back on them at a scrap metal business.