Australia stuck in e-waste dark ages

E-waste is contaminating our soil and waterways three times faster than general waste. But industry, government and consumers aren't doing enough to combat the problem

This year marks the twelfth anniversary of Planet Ark's National Recycling Week (12th-18th November), and the problem of e-waste in Australia is growing bigger and badder with each passing year.

Planet Ark's recycling program manager, Brad Gray, said that e-waste is emerging as one of the biggest issues in recycling.

"Compared to clothing or curbside recycling, e-waste recycling is decades behind. 75 per cent of newspapers and 70 per cent of aluminium cans are recycled. Currently nothing like that figure is being achieved in any of the e-waste areas," he said.

"The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates e-waste in Australia is growing at more than three times the rate of general municipal waste," Gray said.

Resource conservation campaigner at the Total Environment Centre (TEC) Jane Castle said Australia is way behind the rest of the world in combating e-waste.

"Europe, Canada, the US, Japan and many other countries have mandated extended producer responsibility which requires computer producers to collect and recycle, but Australia has stalled for a decade. NSW has had the power to mandate producer collection and recycling for six years, but bureaucratic inaction has crippled progress," she said.

E-waste is more complicated than other forms of recycling, as the equipment is made up of a large number of different and varying materials -- plastics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, glass, and electronic boards -- many of which are dangerous or toxic.

But Castle believes the difficulty in recycling e-waste is over-hyped, and more should be done.

"Computers aren't complicated to recycle. Two-thirds of the cost is for collection and 99 per cent of a computer can now be recycled," she said.

The ABS reports that around 92.5 million electronic items are held in Australian homes, an average of 22 per household. It estimates Australians will replace 9 million computers, 5 million printers, and 2 million scanners within the next two years.

Planet Ark's Gray points to the rapid adoption of new technologies as a driving force behind the mountains of e-waste piling up, and calls for the government to implement a national plan to combat the problem.

"Australia doesn't have a national e-waste management scheme. There are a number of responsible businesses like Dell who take responsibility for their products from beginning to end, but many other businesses take no responsibility," he said.

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