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A wasted opportunity?

Professor Graciela Metternicht, of the University of New South Wales, argues an opportunity exists to set a national standard for proper disposal and recycling of e-waste.

With the proliferation of digital technologies, the recycling of e-waste continues to pose challenges.

A report by Clean Up Australia in 2015 found that 88 per cent of the four million computers and three million TVs bought in Australia every year will end up in landfill. It also showed that fewer than one per cent of TVs and around 10 per cent of PCs and laptops used in Australia are recycled nationwide. Electronic waste is responsible for 70 per cent of the toxic chemicals, including lead, cadmium and mercury found in landfill, the figures noted.

Professor Graciela Metternicht, of the School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, supervised research in 2016 that found Australia lags behind other nations such as Japan and Switzerland in e-waste management.

Graciela’s team found that both Switzerland and Japan have multiple levels of independent controls to ensure recycling companies have high environmental and quality standards as well as auditing companies that refuse to comply with recycling standards.

She says that in order to begin to rectify the problem, the Federal Government needs to boost its targets sooner in its Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations 2011, as well as increasing the scope of products featured in the Product Stewardship Act 2011, currently under review. While waste management standards are determined by local and state governments, Graciela believes stronger product stewardship schemes are needed to set a national standard for recycling in Australia.

Furthermore, tighter recycling laws are necessary to cover the full scope of e-waste, alongside stricter auditing and compliance measures and increased funding for local government in the collection, recycling and recovery of e-waste.

“If councils had more power to enforce some of the targets then that would open up new avenues for e-waste technologies. For instance, the SMaRT Centre at UNSW is developing a prototype portable micro-factory, roughly the size of a shipping container. If successful, this kind of technology could be deployed at collection sites in suburbs to recycle e-waste and recover valuable metals. Such portable micro-factories could be distributed among councils, eliminating the need for long distance transportation of e-waste. Most recycling could be done within the council’s facilities or closer to the areas where the waste is generated,” Graciela explains.

To read more, see page 56 of Issue 12.