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Sparking change for waste from e-products

Rethinking e-waste

Ewaste Watch is expecting that a new discussion paper will start a conversation about E-Waste treatment and solutions throughout Queensland.

Australians generate 23.6 kilograms of e-waste per person, the equivalent of 574,000 tonnes a year, but only 50,000 tonnes is recycled annually.

There are also more than 25 million unused mobile phones sitting idle in Australian homes.

Ewaste Watch, a supporter of sustainable options for e-waste, is keen to see an action plan in place to help bring down those statistics.

The non-for-profit organisation aims to inform industry, government, and the public on innovative and cleaner strategies for avoiding waste from electrical and electronic products (e-products), as well increased levels of reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling.

E-waste includes electrical and electronic products such as those used for entertainment, healthcare or work.

John Gertsakis, Director and Co-founder says, the sustainable treatment and reuse of e-waste would benefit greatly from a multi-pronged approach, rather than a singular focused solution.

“While recycling has a valuable place, it alone does not provide a sustainable and waste-free solution,” he says. “Change can be daunting, but we should see this as an exciting time for innovation, positive disruption and better product design.”

Ewaste Watch’s paper, Rethinking E-waste in Queensland was released in October, with a focus on answering key questions relating to e-waste.

The paper begins by encouraging electronic goods consumers to reflect on their consumer choices, such as the number of devices used within a household and how previous items were discarded.

According to the paper, at least 9.3 million mobile phones are imported each year, contributing to Australia being the fourth highest generator of e-waste per capita globally. Ewaste Watch is partnering with the Queensland Government to co-design an E-Products Action Plan to address issues related to the waste. The plan is funded by the Department of Environment and Science.

John says the plan aims to define how waste avoidance and reduction can be converted into circular economy actions. It will also identify goals and objectives for action from stakeholders, such as manufacturers and retailers of e-products.

John says that input and participation from decision makers will likely influence the greatest change to better managing e-waste and diverting it from landfill.

“From those who make and sell these products, consumers and repairers to those who collect, repair, repurpose and recycle them, everyone should be having a say in how to address the waste-related impacts resulting from e-products,” he says.

Design and repair

The role of design in waste production is one of the areas discussed in Rethinking E-waste in Queensland.

The paper states that products with smarter designs that include an extended product and reuse life, will likely lead to a reduction in waste volume, as there is a reduce need to replace them.

“E-products have typically had a linear lifespan. They are made, bought, used and disposed of, often going to landfill,” John says.

He says that a transition from a “take, make and dispose” model, into a closed material loop will contribute to establishing a circular economy for electronic products.

Repair is another area where change is needed. The paper states that some technological companies guard the repairs of products as intellectual property. But Ewaste Watch wants to see a circular approach which allows consumers to repair products in a safe and cost-effective matter.

Leading change

A CHOICE “consumer pulse” survey, found 85 per cent of Australian consumers wanted products that were durable. But 39 per cent said that they found it difficult to make decisions about environmental factors for products.

John says that such statistics are a positive sign that change is coming.

“There is ample evidence that consumers’ expectations, attitudes and preferences are quickly changing around the world and that some manufacturers and retailers are responding,” he says. “You can never underestimate the power of the marketplace as a driver of change.”

E-waste is already being collected and recycled in Queensland in schemes including the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme and MobileMuster.

While larger white goods such as fridges and dishwasher are recovered for steel recycling across the state, the Action Plan will aim to cover solutions to keep smaller appliances, solar panels and other e-products out of landfill.

For more information, visit: www.ewastewatch.com.au

John Gertsakis is Director and Co-founder of the Ewaste Watch Institute, Adjunct Professor (Industry) at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures and a Director of the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence.

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