Why e-waste is on the rise
E-waste is anything that has a battery or a plug and has reached the end of its useful life. This includes items like computers, mobile phones, tablets, TVs and microwaves.
In 2019, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research reported that there was a total of 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste generated worldwide. This figure is up by 21% in just five years, and modelling predicts that by 2030 the total amount of e-waste generated globally will be around 74 million tonnes – which, as we mentioned above, was the total amount of waste generated in Australia alone between 2018-19.
Some of the contributing factors for the increase in e-waste include:
- Decreased lifespan of electronic devices – The average lifespan of a television is around four to ten years, while you can expect to get around just three to five years out of your new laptop. This, combined with the ever-increasing pace at which new technology emerges and old tech becomes obsolete, is a contributing factor in e-waste.
- A lack of repair options – With new technology readily available for an affordable price, it’s sometimes easier to simply buy a new device if the old one has broken down rather than getting it repaired.
- The COVID-19 pandemic – While lockdowns throughout the world resulted in a temporary decrease in emissions, the pandemic was also responsible for a surge in technology purchases. A recent study showed that 78% of respondents thought that “COVID-19 caused unnecessary short-term investment in technology.”
How a circular economy can help solve the e-waste problem
A circular economy is based around recycling, reusing and repairing existing materials. A linear economy, on the other hand, is one where products are created but are ultimately turned into waste. When you recycle electronic products instead of throwing them out and adding them to landfill, you’re contributing directly to a circular economy and taking direct, positive steps towards helping the environment.
When you recycle e-waste products responsibly, it has a number of flow-on effects:
- Resource recovery – Resources such as glass, aluminium and plastic can be recovered; and precious metals including gold, silver and palladium are also recovered. Gold mining produces the most waste out of any mining sector in Australia, so salvaging this metal from e-waste is critical. And by recovering these materials, we reduce the need for mining new materials. In turn, reduced mining efforts put less pressure on power consumption.
- Hazardous materials – Some electronic items contain hazardous materials. When these items are dumped in landfill or improperly recycled, there is a risk that these hazardous materials (such as heavy metals including mercury, lithium and lead) can leak into the soil. This can lead to groundwater contamination.
- Air pollution – When e-waste items aren’t recycled properly, there is the risk that dismantling or melting these items can release harmful substances into the air. For example, Guiyu in China is generally considered to be one of the largest e-waste collection sites in the entire world. Air quality testing in Guiyu in 2005 revealed an alarmingly high amount of heavy metals present in the air. The soil quality and water quality in the area has also been adversely affected by the e-waste industry.
It’s not hard to see how these effects can have an impact on humans as well as the environment. When hazardous materials enter the soil, water and air, this can lead to chronic health issues in humans. This is why reusing, reducing and recycling e-waste is so important for the global environment.
How you can recycle your e-waste in Australia
When your TV unexpectedly blows up or your laptop stubbornly refuses to co-operate, think about recycling your e-waste it instead of sending it to landfill.
In Australia, the federal government has set up the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. Items for e-waste recycling include televisions, computers and computer parts and printers. Currently, there are two organisations that are approved under the scheme to provide pick-up and drop-off recycling services (TechCollect and E-Cycle Solutions). However, as the federal government’s scheme does not cover many household electrical appliances, it’s also worth taking a look at Planet Ark’s recycling directory for e-waste recycling locations near you.
Vodafone is also a member of MobileMuster, which is a government-accredited mobile phone recycling program managed by Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA). MobileMuster accepts all brands and types of phones for recycling as well as phone batteries, chargers and other accessories.
In 2021, a total of 7,425 mobile phones were recycled by Vodafone and our customers. By recycling mobile phones instead of sending them to landfill, this resulted in:
- 91 tonnes of mineral resources that were recovered
- 757 trees were planted
- 99 tonnes of CO² emissions were prevented
- 7 kilos of summer smog were avoided
- 33 kilos of particulates were averted
- 317,530 megajoules of fossil fuel resources were saved.
For every mobile phone recycled, more than 90% of its materials can be recovered and used again. And more materials being recycled means fewer raw resources being extracted to make new products, which has a directly positive effect on our environment.
There are more than 3,500 public MobileMuster recycling drop-off points, including more than 300 Vodafone stores throughout Australia.
Make a direct impact and help solve the e-waste problem
We’re living in a world where the direct effects of climate change are more obvious than ever before. And sometimes it feels as if the surmounting problems around e-waste and other types of waste are just too big for us to tackle. But while these problems are serious, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do your part to help reduce e-waste. While we need corporations and organisations to step up to the plate and do their share, there are many ways that individuals can also help.
Here are just a few simple ways you can cut down on the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfill:
- Recycle it – As mentioned above, it’s easy to recycle unwanted e-waste either through the federal government’s scheme or through a private organisation. Most services, such as MobileMuster, are free of charge. There are even specific services that allow you to recycle batteries.
- Donate it – There are plenty of reasons why we choose to upgrade electronics that work perfectly fine. You may have just moved in with a friend or a partner, and now you’ve got one too many televisions. Or maybe your work has just provided you with a brand-new phone, and you no longer need your old one. If this is the case, you can always consider donating it to charity.
- Sell it – If the item in question works fine and you could do with the extra cash, consider trying to sell it online. Alternatively, if you’re on the lookout for a new item and want to save some money, you could take a look at what others are selling.
- Repair it – The next time one of your appliances breaks down, consider having it fixed instead of buying a brand new one. You might be surprised at how cost-effective it is to simply have the item repaired. Even better – see if you can find a YouTube tutorial on how to repair it yourself (while ensuring your own safety, of course).
So the next time you think of tossing out your old electronics, think outside the box and discover ways you can prevent them from ending up in landfill.
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