Aussie computer recycling plant saves 20,000 tonnes of e-waste

Computers crushed to thumb size

Australia has launched its first automated recycling plant for e-waste which will salvage up to 20,000 tonnes of IT equipment from landfill.

The Sims recycling plant, opened Wednesday in Sydney, will reduce monitors and circuit boards into basic components such aluminium, copper, silver and gold to be shipped to overseas sites for further processing.

Australia lacks the $200 to $300 million facilities to recycle batteries, and further reduce the plastics and metals. The plant will make shipping the goods overseas more safe in accordance with the Basel Convention.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the Villawood facility, in Sydney’s south west, is a practical response to reduce e-waste.

“We know that e-waste is a growing problem as Australians embrace newer technologies across a range of electronic and computing goods, and it is an issue that I am closely examining with my state and territory colleagues through the Environmental Protection and Heritage Council,” Garrett said.

“Recycling delivers important environmental benefits, including energy and water savings, and a reduced demand for landfill space.”

The plant will recycle 98 percent of materials received through the gates. Only about 4 percent of the 140,000 tonnes of e-waste dumped by Australians each year is recycled.

Sims Group general manager Peter Netchaef said 95 percent of materials received by the plant will come from corporations such as IBM, Cisco, Apple and Hewlett Packard.

“We look at the equipment first to see if we can reuse the machines — about 90 to 95 percent of what we recycle is from corporates. Consumer computers are often too old to reuse [and] you don't have much left once you smash up an iPod,” Netchaef said.

The glass which is extracted is sent to Holland where it will eventually end up in new televisions. Netchaef said the back glass is toxic and has about 23 percent lead but the front is pure optical glass.

Gold is also a welcome by product of the process. “It takes about 80 computers to make 1 gram of gold,” he said.

The plant uses eddy current systems and magnets to separate components including gold, silver and copper once primary compacting machines have reduced computers to about the size of a thumb.

Planet Ark spokesperson Karen Billington said private businesses and councils will recycle consumer equipment such as televisions and computers for free.

“It is a shame that the facility is not open to the public, however the plant is great because businesses turn over the largest amount of e-waste as they constantly update their technology,” Billington said.

She said consumers can visit the Recycling Near You Web site which provides access to free recycling facilities in all but one Australian council, or can phone 1300 733 712.

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