Growing Problem of E-waste

As technology develops, the rate at which devices become outdated also grows. With new models of phones, tablets, and computers being introduced almost every month, it is no surprise that old models are being replaced, usually thrown away and generating what is known as ‘e-waste’ or electronic waste.

Electronic waste is growing at an alarming rate. According to a report published by United Nation’s STEP (Stopping the E-waste Problem) programme, approximately 570 metric kilo tonnes of e-waste was generated in Australia in 2012 ? an average of 25kg per individual. In spite of the many e-waste recycling programmes in our country, most of the discarded electrical and electronic items including televisions, batteries, printers, computers, monitors and mobile phones are ending up in landfill.

The e-waste problem

There are several concerns with the growing amount of e-waste. As a fast growing contributor to our waste stream, the sheer volume of material reaching the landfill is one obvious problem. And importantly, many of these discarded products contain valuable resources like gold, copper, zinc and others which are non-renewable. Dumping these in landfills is an unsustainable practice.

But the biggest concern is the environmental impact of e-waste which contains hazardous and toxic substances like lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and similar elements. These hazardous materials – many which require special handling – are entering the environment. They can leach into our groundwater, contaminate the soil and may finally reach the food chain as toxins.

As humans and other living beings come in contact with these toxins, they develop health problems – respiratory, developmental, reproductive and neurological.

Reduce, Re-use and Recycle

While we cannot completely avoid generating e-waste, we can ensure that we minimise the amount that ends up in landfill. Avoiding products that cannot be recycled, buying less toxic substitutes like biodegradable toners and inks, Lithium-ion batteries etc. and following the three R’s – Reduce, Re-use and Recycle are simple steps possible at an individual level.

  • Whenever possible, repair equipment instead of throwing it away. Always choose durable, long-lasting products to reduce waste.
  • When buying new versions of laptops and tablets, consider donating the old ones to schools or local charities that might be able to use them. You might also be able to trade them in for store credit or sell them to companies that repair and sell refurbished computers.
  • Switch to rechargeable batteries and eco-friendly lighting options for all business needs.
  • Most councils offer free e-waste recycling services regularly or periodically.

Interesting developments

Researchers around the world are trying to come up with innovative technologies for recycling electronic devices. One such development by three British companies is an adhesive circuit board which is 90% recyclable. Here a recyclable thermoplastic substrate is used for the circuit board and the electronic components are joined to it using a conductive adhesive.

The whole board is exposed to water at near boiling temperatures for recycling. This high temperature softens the adhesive and the components can easily be scraped off and reused. While this technology, in its present form, cannot be used for devices that operate at high temperatures, it has already found buyers in the automotive industry.

Several companies have also perfected techniques to extract gold and other precious metals from used mobile phones, telecommunication devices and medical equipment. While some of these processes use strong chemicals, bioleaching using certain kinds of microbes is also being studied as an alternative.

Make a difference

At T2 Environmental, our aim is to help companies reach a goal of ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’. We encourage practices that reduce waste and promote recycling. Our facility management experts will help you come up with a waste management plan that will best suit your specific requirements.

Call us on 1300 738 612 for a free audit of your business and a no-obligation quote.

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