E-waste this festive season - what you can do about it

Electronic waste or 'e-waste' is a huge disposal problem as mobile phones, computers, TVs and other electronics contain many dangerous heavy metals. When dumped into landfill, they contaminate soils, poison waterways and waste precious resources.

With the 2010 festive season upon us let’s also think about all the extra waste created - and how to dispose of it responsibly.

We are all familiar with the practice of recycling materials such as paper, glass, aluminium and some plastics. This is a great start, but we need to make good use of this and other recycling services this Christmas and New Year holiday season.

43 million tonnes of waste generated in one year

According to the National Waste Report, for the year 2006-07 Australia generated a total of 43,777,000 tonnes of waste. Only a small portion of this was e-waste, but the number reminds us of the scale of our waste problem.

Only 4% of e-waste is recycled

It was reported by the ABC in 2009 that e-waste is growing at three times the amount of other types of waste, with as little as 4 per cent being recycled.

Computers contain heavy metals such as Lead (in solder) and Cadmium (in batteries). In fact, the old style CRT computer monitors contain over 1 kg of lead.

In 2003 Australians, on average, were replacing their mobile phones every 12 to 18 months. Now this has escalated to about every 6 to 12 months as technology changes at an ever increasing rate. Mobile phones can be reclaimed or recycled, saving our environment from being contaminated by these toxic metals: Arsenic, Antimony, Beryllium, Cadmium, Copper, Lead, Nickel, and Zinc.

Your e-waste action plan

So, what can we do to reduce our e-waste and make sure our old phones, computers, TVs, etc. are reclaimed for reuse or recycled into other useful materials and products?

  • Firstly, think about whether or not you really need to buy the latest version of mobile phone, computer or TV, or will your current version still meet your needs.
  • Next, recycle printer cartridges at your local Australia Post, and mobile phones with the extensive Mobile Muster recycling program.

And, year round when you have older electronic equipment which needs to be disposed of you can also:

  • Contact your local council about their e-waste reclaim and recycle services (many councils now run annual or more frequent e-waste drop-off services).
  • Check out the Recycling Near You websites for specific services in your area.

With warm wishes for a safe, clean, green, and very happy Festive Season 2010.

- Marta Lett

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