What a waste

It’s amazing how quickly we upgrade our gadgets these days. It wasn’t so long ago that no one had even heard of an iPhone – now every man and his dog seems to have one in his back pocket.

So what’s happening to everyone’s old phones? And where do our microwaves and other electronic appliances go when we’ve decided they’ve done their dash?

Chances are you threw the old phone, electronic toothbrush, curling wand and countless other electronic goods in the bin. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released last week suggest that nearly a quarter of electronic equipment and more than half of household appliances thrown out in the 12 months prior to March ended up in our general rubbish bins.

The problem is, while we are fascinated by the latest model of everything, our landfills are clogging up with electronic waste and even worse, much of it also gets illegally dumped in our environment.

On average, we upgrade our computer every 2-5 years, our microwave every 5-8 years, our mobile phone as soon as our plan runs out. We go through countless batteries to keep all our household appliances running – an estimated 8,000 tonnes of alkaline batteries go to the tip every year.

It’s no wonder then that electronic waste, or e-waste, is our fastest growing rubbish type. In fact, it’s being sent to the tip at three times the rate of general waste.

The environmental effects of e-waste are also potentially much more frightening than those of general waste because of what it contains – toxins. Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt – your innocent looking household appliances are full of these toxins, and when they’re dumped in landfill or in the environment, those toxins can seep into our groundwater, contaminate the soil and potentially even enter the food chain.

We recently had a breakthrough on e-waste in Australia, with the Federal Government announcing a new recycling scheme for TVs and computers as part of a National Waste Policy. See the details here.

This scheme was developed at the urging of manufacturers – so it’s great to finally see industry and our political leaders working together to come up with a solution for e-waste. But that’s by no means the end of the problem – we all still need to take action at work and at home to help curb our growing e-waste.

What you can do:

AVOID: Buy products that will last and are repairable. You might even consider leasing?

REDUCE: Repair your old appliances and gadgets wherever possible instead of buying new ones.

REUSE: Check if local schools or charities can use your old appliances, and always buy rechargeable batteries and refillable ink cartridges.

RECYCLE: Take your old appliances to be recycled – most councils provide e-waste recycling services.  You can even donate your old mobile phone. Clean Up offers a free service – simply go to our website www.cleanup.org.au for a satchel.

We can’t help the fact that electronic items will go out of date and we’ll need to replace them, but we can try to minimise the impact our e-waste has on the environment.

Does anyone have any e-waste tips?

Ian Kiernan AO

Clean Up Australia Chairman


3 thoughts on “What a waste

  1. Given that we already have yellow bins to recycle our household goods in Sydney, could it not be further expanded so that mobiles, toothbrushes, computers, appliances and electronic goods could be recycled by this method.
    Am I being just too simplistic or is this an option that could be explored in Councils tender process for recycling?

  2. Our society is so consumer-driven – we need campaigns which encourage retaining products rather that buying the latest innovations, the latest fashions, useless gadgets. The cynic in me can’t see that happening as advertising and the media go hand-in-hand. Attitudinal change doesn’t happen overnight but everything we use, make or purchase is paid for by the planet.

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