Silly season recycling

Silly season recycling

As Christmas waste piles up in household bins, what can councils and businesses do to encourage consumers to reduce their e-waste?

With Christmas just around the corner, Australians are expected to begin a spending spree on gifts, food and festivities.

In 2017, Australians were predicted to spend $50 billion for Christmas, according to the Roy Morgan Research Annual Pre-Christmas Sales predictions.

Galaxy research commissioned by Gumtree found that more than $600 million worth of these gifts are expected to be Christmas duds, amounting to more than 20 million unwanted gifts.

These unwanted gifts often end up being re-gifted or gathering dust with 53 per cent of people disposing of at least one Christmas gift, according to the Australian Institutes’ paper on Unwanted Christmas Presents.

Hawkesbury City Council estimates households produce 30 per cent more waste over the Christmas period. This tends to be made up of discarded packaging, torn up wrapping paper, food waste from uneaten food and organic waste from Christmas trees.

Andrew Glover, a Research Fellow at RMIT, says e-waste is a significant waste stream that is generated over the Christmas period as consumers begin receiving upgrades to electronic devices, such as phones and televisions.

“Often when receiving a new laptop or phone, Australians want to dispose of their old technology,” Andrew says.

“It can be convenient for a household to dispose of their old electronics in the general household bin instead of recycling them, especially when there is likely already a significant amount of waste generated alongside it.

“Councils have a role to play in reducing this waste, as they provide e-waste collection and vital community education,” he says.

E-waste can pose potential risks if sent to landfill as the materials can contain hazardous materials that could cause harm to the environment and human health. 

Services such as the Recycling Near You website can help to make it easier for residents to recycle material correctly by directing them to nearby e-waste collection points to dispose of it if council collections are not available over the Christmas break.

Andrew says that increasing awareness of drop-off point locations is important for residents, as convenience is key to encourage recycling.

“Motivating residents to recycle requires more than just advertising where the drop-off locations are.Offering some kind of incentive beyond just goodwill can be an excellent motivator.

“It can be in the form of a small gesture such as a voucher for local business that helps support the collection of e-waste.

“Another effective method some councils have used is a community e-waste drive, where residents can drop off their materials. These can make recycling feel like a community effort but require good event management as long lines can lead to people losing interest,” he explains.

The City of Sydney used this method to collect almost 90 tonnes of e-waste in 2017, recycling around 95 per cent of the raw materials recovered. In a recent event at the Sydney Park Nursery Depot, the council attracted 1558 individual e-waste drop offs, with half of the participants reporting it was their first time attending such an event.

E-waste drop off sites often see a spike in activity over the Christmas period, with recycling service TechCollect reporting its monthly collection increases by around 50 per cent over the holiday season.

Warren Overton, Australia New Zealand Recycling Platform CEO, says constant reinforcement across all sections of the community is important to ensuring household e-waste is collected properly over the holidays.

“Christmas provides an excellent opportunity for councils and business to encourage households to think about their waste. Councils can work with schools for sustainability education, while retailers and business can advertise collection sites within retail centres,” he explains.

“E-waste recycling information at the point of sale can take advantage of the increased foot traffic in stores and potentially lead to return customers after Christmas who are looking to recycle their old electronics. 

“Councils will need be aware of the Christmas shutdown that many recyclers undertake, especially because they will still need to receive the incoming waste. Ensuring the council facilities have the appropriate collection infrastructure is vital to being prepared for holidays,” Warren adds.

As workers plan for the holidays, Christmas can also be a time of reduced workforce for councils. This can make it logistically difficult to handle the increased waste that is generated by households.

Andrew adds that encouraging residents to reduce waste should be a priority when it comes to education.

“Disposing of electronics through hard waste collections can often risk the items being damaged or vandalised, which can cost a significant amount to clean up,” he says.

“Encouraging residents to pass on their older and still working technology is often better for the environment, especially if it can be sold online second hand, given to an elderly relative or to a service such as Freecycle.”