According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australians sent 17 million televisions and 37 million computers to landfill by 2008.As we continue to consume more technology, we toss away devices we no longer find useful. These devices then end up in landfills where they become an environmental issue.
Australia is one of the top countries for technology consumption and as a result, e-waste is currently our fastest growing waste problem. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australians sent 17 million televisions and 37 million computers to landfill by 2008. Since then, the amount of electronic waste has grown exponentially. By 2027-28, ABS predicts the cumulative volume of televisions and computers reaching the end of their useful life is expected to reach 181,000 tonnes or 44 million units. This is due to our large consumption of technology. Each year, Australians buy four million computers and three million TVs. In fact, statistics show that 99% of Australian households have a television, and over half of that group have a second TV in their home or more! As we continue to consume more technology, we toss away devices we no longer find useful. These devices then end up in landfills where they become an environmental issue.
While Australia’s e-waste issue is by far a large scale issue, there are things we can all do on a smaller scale to lessen the burden on our environment. At The Computer Market, we always advocate for environmental sustainability and recycling – after all, it’s in our business model. Today, we share why e-waste is still an important issue and how we can all work to alleviate it with simple steps we can take.
What is E-Waste?
E-waste stands for electronic waste. It involves the disposal of any electronic or electrical appliances that are dependent on electromagnetic fields or electrical currents to function. The following are some types of common e-waste items that end up in landfills.
- Consumer/entertainment electronics (e.g. televisions, DVD players, and tuners).
- Devices of offices and information and communications technology (e.g. computers, telephones and mobile phones).
- Household appliances (e.g. fridges, washing machines and microwaves).
- Lighting devices (e.g. desk lamps).
- Power tools (e.g. power drills) with the exclusion of stationary industrial devices.
- Devices used for sport and leisure including toys (e.g. fitness machines and remote control cars).
In the year 2016-17 Australia’s total e-waste was 465,818 tonnes, 79.2% of which came directly from households. This might be surprising to hear, especially as it is common belief that corporations use a larger amount of tech; however, the extent to which new technologies are consumed is much higher across Aussie households. This is especially true when it comes to phones.
Adapted from the ABS Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates, 2016-17 (2019) report.
According to Deloitte, Australians are holding on their phones for only 3 and a half years on average and smartphone penetration has hit 91%. Not only are Australians replacing their phones quite often, but there’s a greater demand for various other types of devices such as tablets and smart watches, which along with smartphones, had the greatest increase in market penetration over recent years, according to Deloitte.
While it feels like technological innovations are a positive step towards advancing our society and moving towards the future, it’s important to remember that actions have consequences. There are drawbacks to progressing this quickly, specifically environmental drawbacks.
Why E-Waste is a Big Issue
One of the main reasons why e-waste is such a significant issue is due to the impact it makes on the environment more so than traditional waste. Electronics contain hazardous waste materials that require special handling due to their toxicity levels. There’s also the issue of depleting our natural resources as we continue to meet the demand of increased consumption.
E-Waste & Toxicity
“E-waste is responsible for 70% of the toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium and mercury found in landfill” – Clean up Australia.
E-waste is riddled with toxic chemicals which infiltrate the soil, waterways, and contaminate animal habitats, endangering wildlife and poisoning the Earth. One of the worst culprits when it comes to e-waste is TVs. Old televisions contain almost 2kg of lead. This is the largest source of lead waste than any other material in the waste stream. Newer models of televisions, like modern flat screens, while lighter in lead, contain a higher than normal level of mercury, according to the ABS.
While tossing away your old device is the easy option, it’s not safe for the Earth. Thankfully, there are more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of your old electronics which we’ll cover below.
“Around 10% of the world’s gold and 30% of silver goes into making electronics, but only 15% to 20% of the 50 million tonnes of e-waste created every year are recycled.” – Cleanaway.
While we may not perceive our electronics as luxury items, they are most definitely containing luxury materials. Most of our electronics contain raw materials such as copper, silver, and gold – all of which are in high demand and limited supply. It takes hundreds of millions of years for some of these natural materials to form, and while we might like to believe there’s an endless supply, unfortunately there isn’t. The sad reality is that we throw away our precious metals, but there’s hope – these resources can be easily recycled.
The Growing Problem…
Electronics have always produced e-waste; however, due to the increasingly fast pace at which we consume and dispose of technology, we are experiencing a huge spike in electronic waste. Previously, households would keep televisions for over a decade. Now, with frequent upgrades and technological improvements, this time between appliances is decreasing.
Looking at phones in particular, it has become commonplace to switch out your ‘old’ phone for a newer model within a year or two. This is largely due to the increase in ‘mobile plans’ over the last couple of decades, most of which last for 12-24 months. At the end of these plans, consumers have the option of upgrading to the next generation iPhone or android. These plans and our constant dependency on technology has sped up the average lifecycle of devices.
On top of that, these days, we often bypass repairs to opt for new technology. Often our phones accumulate general wear and tear, most of which can be fixed (i.e. cracked scene); however, many choose to upgrade over repair due to the convenience. Sometimes tech companies, like Apple, even give consumers that little ‘push’ to upgrade. For example, when Apple upgraded its operating system to iOS 10, a lot of the new software made extensive use of haptic features that required an iPhone 6 – a device that was released only the previous year.
These days a lot of our smartphones are on a level playing field software-wise – for now, anyway. However, brands are constantly thinking of new ways to entice us. Some of the more recent ‘advanced’ features include better cameras with more powerful zooming technology (almost parallel to DSLR cameras) and Apple’s new U1 chip that has improved spatial awareness to improve airdrop file transfer and detect distance more precisely.
Another reason e-waste is a growing concern is due to the diversifying nature of technology thanks to wearables (e.g. fitness bands and smart watches). As the sales of these devices increase, so does our capacity of e-waste.
All of this being said, we live in a reality where technology is strongly cemented within our lives. While overconsumption leads to excessive e-water, at the same time, it’s almost impossible to navigate the world today without the latest technology (literally), so we’re not saying it’s wrong to buy and upgrade your devices, but there is a better, more economical, and more environmentally friendly way!
How You Can Save E-Waste from Building up!
We can all do our part to save e-waste from ending up in landfills. The best way to do this is by recycling, reusing, and buying refurbished when possible.
Where to Recycle Your E-waste
“Of the 15.7 million computers that reached their ‘end of life’ in Australia in 2007-08, only 1.5 million were recycled” – ABS.
As consumption and resource demand grows exponentially each year, and with many of these resources becoming more and more scarce, the need for recycling increases. Did you know, 98% of components inside your computers, laptops, televisions can be fully recycled?
Here’s how you can get your devices recycled!
- Check the Planet Ark ‘recycling near you’ page to check for recycling drop off points for old TVs and computers;
- Use the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program to recycle printer cartridges;
- Use the MobileMuster program to recycle old mobile phones, their batteries and accessories;
- Use the joint MobileMuster, Storage King and ECOACTIV E-Waste Recycling Box for mobile phones and other small electronics including notebooks, video recorders, CD and DVD players, printers, cameras, MP3 players and gaming devices;
- And, use Aldi supermarkets or Battery World stores to recycle used household batteries.
Recycling helps us create a circular economy rather than a linear one – as demonstrated by Tech Collect’s diagrams. This type of economy allows us to keep inventing and innovating technology with minimal damage and disruption to our natural environment.
Other than recycling, a great way to save e-waste from landfills is to invest in the second hand market. This means buying refurbished technology and selling your used devices to resale companies or second-hand marketplaces. That’s right – you can even make some money with second-hand!
Australia Lagging Behind in Second-Hand Market
Sadly, just one in 10 Australian mobile consumers chooses to participate in the second-hand phone market, bringing our global average down to 15 per cent, according to market research. Similarly, the rate of purchase for used laptops and computers is also quite low.
At The Computer Market, we’re firm believers in buying second-hand as we know the extensive process involved in getting you a high quality product for a low price. Want to know exactly what goes into refurbishing a device? Check out our recent article on the refurbishing process.
While there are many advantages to buying refurbished (paying less, still getting a warranty, and purchasing a device that has been repaired to new and proven to perform), ultimately, the best part is that you’re helping the Earth. Some damage we inflict on the Earth will take millions of years to undo; some will be irreversible. That’s why it’s important to look after what we have now.
Get your next refurbished device from The Computer Market and do your part for the planet (and save some money in the process). Check out our catalogue and contact us to hear about our other tech services.