World first e-waste recycling microfactory launches at UNSW

A world first microfactory capable of transforming components from e-waste which may reduce the amount sent to landfill has been launched at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The microfactory uses technology developed after extensive research at UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre) and is able to reduce the issue of e-waste from discarded phones and laptops causing environmental harm when sent to landfill.

NSW Minister for the Environment Gabrielle Upton said it was exciting to see new technological innovations that could transform waste management and recycling.

“I am very pleased to launch the UNSW e-waste microfactory today, a NSW home-grown solution to the waste challenges facing communities all over the world,” Ms Upton said.

“It is exciting to see innovations such as this prototype microfactory and the potential they have to reduce waste and provide a boost to both the waste management and manufacturing industries in NSW,” Ms Upton said.

The micro factory is able to operate on a site as small as 50 square metres and can be located at anywhere waste is stockpiled. It functions as a series of machines and devices that use technology to perform one or more functions in the reforming of waste products.

The UNSW microfactory is able to reform computers, mobile phones and printers, and has a number of modules for the process. The devices are first broken down, then a robot identifies useful parts, which sends them to a small furnace which transforms them into valuable resources using precise temperatures and processes developed by extensive research.

SMaRT Centre Director Professor Veena Sahajwalla said the e-waste microfactory was the first of a series of microfactories under development and in testing at UNSW that can also turn many types of consumer waste streams such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products.

An example of this is turning computer circuit boards into valuable metal allows such as copper and tine. Glass from devices can also be converted into micrometrical used in industrial grade ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing.

“Our e-waste microfactory and another under development for other consumer waste types offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities to our cities but importantly to our rural and regional areas, too,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Using our green manufacturing technologies, these microfactories can transform waste where it is stockpiled and created, enabling local businesses and communities to not only tackle local waste problems but to develop a commercial opportunity from the valuable materials that are created.”

Dr Sahajwalla said microfactories presented a solution to burning and burying waste items that contain materials which can be transformed into value-added substances and products to meet existing and new industry and consumer demands. This was a truly sustainable solution to our growing waste problem which also offers economic benefits available to local communities, she said.

“We have proven you can transform just about anything at the micro-level and transform waste streams into value-added products. For example, instead of looking at plastics as just a nuisance, we’ve shown scientifically that you can generate materials from that waste stream to create smart filaments for 3D printing,” she said.

“These microfactories can transform the manufacturing landscape, especially in remote locations where typically the logistics of having waste transported or processed are prohibitively expensive. This is especially beneficial for the island markets and the remote and regional regions of the country.”

The technology was developed with support from the Australian Research Council and is now in partnership with a number of businesses including e-waste recycler TES, mining manufacturer Moly-cop and spectacle company Dresden.

The SMaRT Centre is expanding its partnerships with industry, investors and local councils. The centre aims to commercialise and create incentives for the industry to use this technology and to encourage sustainable behaviours.

New CEO for Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform

Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP) has appointed a new chief executive officer.

Warren Overton has replaced outgoing CEO Carmel Dollisson. Mr Overton brings more than 20 years’ experience in sustainability, including executive roles in business, industry associations and government. Most recently, he served as Director, Business and Built Environment at Sustainability Victoria. Before then he was Co-Founder and Managing Director of Viridis, a national sustainability consulting business operating in four states.

“The board is very pleased to have Warren joining ANZRP. His exceptional track record in sustainability places us in a very good position to build on the strong foundations that Carmel and her team have built since ANZRP’s inception,” said ANZRP Chairman Mark Mackay.

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Carmel Dollisson announced her intention to step down from the CEO role late 2017, in order to take a well-earned break before undertaking some new challenges.

Under Ms Dollisson’s leadership, ANZRP has grown from its modest beginnings in 2011 to become the largest Co-regulatory Arrangement under the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, established by the Federal Government under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 as an industry-funded scheme for the safe and responsible recycling of e-waste.

The board sees one of Mr Overton’s main priorities as leading ANZRP through the final stages and aftermath of the current Regulatory Review of the Product Stewardship Act, and to drive further expansion of the company’s mission to be a leading product stewardship partner, recognised both locally and globally.

“I’m delighted to be joining ANZRP at this vital time in the company’s evolution. Carmel’s exceptional work has put us in a great position to expand our operations to achieve the dual outcomes of lower costs to our member companies and better recycling outcomes for the Australian public,” said Mr Overton said.

“In terms of our core program, it’s very much business as usual, as TechCollect now operates as a well-oiled machine. But there’s a great deal more we’re planning to do through our product stewardship expertise and credentials.”

Ms Dollisson said she is delighted to be leaving ANZRP in good hands.

“This business has been my passion for more than six years, and it’s not going to be easy to leave it behind. I’m reassured by the work the board has undertaken in securing a new CEO, and I look forward to working closely with Warren during the transition period,” she said.

Ms Dollisson will remain with ANZRP until late March to ensure a smooth handover.

The ANZRP Board comprises representatives from member companies Canon, Fuji-Xerox, Dell, HP and Toshiba, together with three independent directors.

New e-waste processing centre to open in Victoria

The Victorian Government has invested in a new e-waste processing centre in Melbourne’s outer south-east.

The new facility, located in the suburb of Officer, is expected to process 1000 tonnes of e-waste in the first year with capacity to divert 5000 tonnes from landfill.

The state government has provided $500,000 to Social Enterprise Outlook Environmental to build a new 1,000 square metre shed on land bought from Places Victoria.

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E-waste includes everything from old mobile phones, computers and related equipment, audio devices, refrigerators and other white goods, hair driers, TVs, heaters, and air-conditioners.

The new facility will receive discarded electronics, which are stripped of components for reprocessing into new technology or sold on the second hand goods market.

Moving Outlook’s e-waste operations to Officer from Pakenham expands its operation from existing facilities at Mornington, Darebin and Hampton Park.

In 2014 around 109,000 tonnes of e-waste entered Victoria’s waste and recovery system, with projections it will be more than 250,000 tonnes by 2035.

The Victorian Government plans to ban e-waste from landfill and submissions can be made on its website.

 

The City of Sydney to trial weekly e-waste pickups

The City of Sydney will trial separate weekly residential rubbish collections for food waste and textiles and introduce weekly e-waste pickups.

It says the plan is part of the “most comprehensive strategy” to tackle residential waste in Australia.

Council unanimously approved the collections as part of its new Leave Nothing to Waste strategy. The council said residents and businesses strongly supported its ambitious target of zero waste to landfill when the strategy was open for comment earlier this year.

The new services include a trial of residential food waste collection – targeted groups of residents can opt-in to have their food waste collected separately and taken to a facility. From there, it will be converted into high grade compost or energy. The services also include clothing and textiles collection from apartment buildings, where residents will be able to throw all their old clothing in a communal waste bin, which will then be collected and recycled. A weekly kerbside electronic waste collection will also be introduced and residents will be able to book in a free pick-up each week, with their old electronics taken to a facility where precious minerals and materials will be collected and reused. Finally, the plan includes a community drop-off centre for problem waste streams such as gas bottles, paints and chemicals.

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Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the plan would set a new benchmark for residential waste collection across the country.

“Australians are becoming increasingly concerned about where their rubbish ends up, which is why our new waste strategy has been so well received,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Our residents generate close to 65,000 tonnes of waste every year – and while 69 per cent is now diverted from landfill, we’re now taking practical steps to increase that to 90 per cent by 2030.

Mayor Moore said cheap clothing and fast fashion has led to a sharp growth in textile waste. He said more than five per cent of the average red bin is made up of clothing.

“Our textiles collection trial will seek to solve this waste stream, with separate clothing bins to become a feature of bin rooms in many apartment buildings across the city.”

“Although we had broad support for all the measures we’ve proposed, our residents have shown great interest in the food waste trial, which we will strive to get up and running over the next two years.

“Food waste makes up one third of the average red bin and can be converted into a valuable resource. Some of our residents have already taken matters into their own hands.”

As a result of feedback from community consultation, the council will also investigate including soft plastics on the list of items to be accepted at the community waste drop-off centre.

“The ABC’s War on Waste program put the spotlight on how harmful soft plastics can be. Residents and businesses have asked us to look at how the City can help keep soft plastics such as shopping bags out of landfill and waterways.

“We will continue to pressure the NSW Government to ban the plastic bag,” the Lord Mayor said.

Australians holding onto unused devices: research

Somebody checks information on ther iPad

New research has revealed almost half of consumers are holding onto unused or broken electronic devices in case they need them again one day.

Commissioned by TechCollect, an industry-funded national e-waste recycling service, the research highlights one in five (22 per cent) of survey respondents admit to being hoarders of old electronic devices.

When asked why they don’t recycle their e-waste, 52 per cent said they are worried they’ll lose personal data. Other reasons include not knowing where to recycle e-waste (83 per cent), not knowing it could be recycled (60 per cent), and not wanting to pay to have their device properly recycled (58 per cent).

Personal data was highlighted as a key concern twice, with 64 per cent of respondents also stating they don’t recycle their e-waste because they worry their data will get into the wrong hands. Previous TechCollect research shows this number has increased by 25 per cent, with the same question receiving a response of 39 per cent in 2015.

TechCollect Chief Executive Officer Carmel Dollisson said all Australians need to take an active role in being responsible for recycling the e-waste they are generating.

“The challenge is encouraging consumers to let go of old devices they are no longer using or which are actually broken beyond repair. Although devices can hold sentimental value, the non-renewable resources in them can be used in manufacturing when recycled correctly,” she said.

“Our new research tells us the average Australian household has approximately 17 electronic devices in the home and yet only 23 per cent of us are always recycling them. With the consumption of electronic devices getting higher all the time, it’s crucial consumers look at e-waste recycling as the natural next step in the product lifecycle, especially when it no longer serves its purpose to them.”

There is still an e-waste knowledge gap

When asking respondents what they do with their unused electronic devices, only 33 per cent admitted to actually recycling it at a designated drop-off site. Other responses included putting their e-waste on the nature strip for a scheduled council collection (28 per cent) and throwing it in the garbage bin (25 per cent), which means the product is almost certain to go straight to landfill. 

“What is concerning in the research is 53 per cent of respondents don’t know they can take their e-waste to an e-waste collection site to avoid it going to landfill, and 63 per cent don’t know if their local council recycles,” Ms Dollisson said.

The responsibility debate

The TechCollect survey explored respondents’ feelings of responsibility and guilt. For those who choose to recycle their e-waste, 74 per cent do so because they feel responsible for the e-waste they produce.

When respondents were questioned on how those who don’t recycle their e-waste feel, 18 per cent said they feel very guilty and 46 per cent say they know they could be doing more to help. Apathy is a problem too, with the research showing 31 per cent don’t really think about it.

Other findings showed 69 per cent are aware that dumping e-waste in landfill can be hazardous to the environment and 60 per cent of respondents know their electronic devices contain valuable resources that can be recovered.

 

Study finds China dumps most e-waste in Asia

Telstra e-waste reuse and recycling strategy went live in November 2016
China is dumping more electronic waste per year than any country in Asia, according to research by the United Nations E-Waste Monitor.

The regional study found China dumped the most waste at 6.7 million metric tons, while Hong Kong was responsible for the most per capita.

The United Nations University (UNU) research, which sampled 11 countries, found electronic waste in Asia and Southeast Asia rose by almost 63 per cent over a five-year period from 2010 to 2015.

In 2015 alone, the region overall dumped 12.3 million metric tons of electronics, which includes TVs, computers, mobile phones and refrigerators.

According to the World Bank, there are more than two mobile phones for every person in the nation in Hong Kong, while its 7.2 million population is estimated to be nearly 200 times smaller than China’s.

Last year, an investigation by Seattle environmental group ­Basel Action Network found Hong Kong had become a dumping ground for exporters of electronic waste in the United States.

The UNU research showed the increase in e-waste in East and South East Asia was driven by high demand for new gadgets and rising incomes.

It found Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Province of China had e-waste collection systems in place, while Hong Kong and Singapore had no specific e-waste legislation, but instead managed via a public-private partnership through their respective governments and producers.

South China Morning Post reported in December of last year that Hong Kong was in the midst of developing its first integrated recycling plant for electronics.