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Why e-waste could be your IT team’s next big issue

E-waste is one of the fastest growing components of the waste stream. Discover why your company needs to consider enforcing take-back or recycling policies.

The advances technology has made in the last few decades have changed our world incredibly, but the built-in obsolescence of our gadgets has created a massive problem – e-waste.

Australia is one of the biggest producers of e-waste on a per capita basis.

We have a seemingly endless appetite for the latest and greatest laptop, tablet, flat screen TV, smartphone and other pieces of consumer electronics, but have long lagged behind Europe and some American states in terms of enforced take-back or recycling policies.

A mountain of e-waste

To quantify the issue, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) says that in 2007–08, 15.7 million computers reached their end of life and less than 10 per cent of those were recycled. By 2027–28, 44 million units, or 181,000 tonnes, of computers and televisions will have come to the end of their usable life.

Electronic waste is responsible for 70 per cent of the toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium and mercury found in landfill. These toxic and environmentally damaging substances are highly pervasive, with many electronic switches and appliances containing mercury.

Additionally, circuit boards contain the toxic substance selenium and magnets contain cobalt. These substances can seep into groundwater, contaminate the soil and enter the food chain.

Tackling the problem

Various not-for-profit organisations have started up with the goal of recycling computers and donating them to community groups and developing nations.

Similarly, many companies have tried to profit by commercially recycling e-waste to recover the valuable metals – for example, the proportion of gold in a circuit board is higher than in the ore from most gold mines. Many have failed, but critical mass has built up over recent years to the point where it’s starting to become economically viable.

National initiative

One measure likely to assist is the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), which was established in 2011. The measure is financed and administered by the television and PC industry.

Householders and small businesses are able to dispose of unwanted televisions and computers free of charge at selected transfer stations. Starting in the ACT, more than 40 recycling drop off points have been established in Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and NSW.

Check out the scheme’s website and see if your company can dispose of its e-waste at one of these drop-off points.
As the IT decision-makers, IT professionals and leaders can play a key role in ensuring they source and dispose of their IT assets and devices in an ethical and sustainable way.
Science to the rescue – maybe
There are other opportunities for Australia as well.
Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla FTSE HonFIEAust is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. She is currently working on a five-year Australian Research Council (ARC) Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellowship, which aims to develop the scientific foundation for environmentally and economically sustainable micro-recycling of e-waste. Her TEDx Sydney Talk is well worth checking out.
There’s a lot to do and the solution will come through collective action. So what is your IT team doing to minimise e-waste?

Find out what other trends are shaping digital transformation with our free infographic.

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