Can Australia do better on e-waste?

Can Australia do better on e-waste?

Australians are among the highest users of technology and e-waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste

Credit: Dreamstime

Each year, around 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced, equivalent in weight to all commercial aircraft ever built, but only 20 per cent is formally recycled, according to a 2019 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). 

“If nothing is done, the amount of waste will more than double by 2050, to 120 million tonnes annually,” the A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot report stated. 

Read more: Let's help set the benchmark for e-waste collection

Perhaps more problematic is that much of the e-waste that is purported to be recycled ends up where it shouldn’t. 

In 2019, global environmental watchdog organisation Basel Action Network (BAN) released the findings of a two-year study in 10 EU countries that followed 314 old computers, printers and monitors in which GPS Trackers had been secretly installed.

According to BAN, the equipment was delivered to places where consumers would be expected to take their waste — most often government-approved takeback stations. 

It was found that six per cent of the tracked scrap equipment was exported, including 11 very likely illegal shipments to the countries of Ghana, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand, and Ukraine — all outside of the EU.

While that study focused on the EU, BAN has also uncovered similar issues arising from the Australian market.

A year-long United Nations-funded study by BAN revealed in 2018 that two of 35 old computers, printers, and monitors left at consumer take-back desks at an electronics retailer in Australia were exported to developing countries in Asia in a “likely contravention of international law,” BAN said.  

According to BAN, another study by the United Nations University reports that Australia generates more than 570,000 tons of e-waste every year. 

Extrapolation of the exports BAN identified could well represent as much as 16,302 tons of such e-waste exported to developing countries per year and would fill around 900 intermodal containers.

“These exports should never have happened," said Jim Puckett, BAN's founder and director, in 2018. “And it stands to reason that this discovery represents far more volume than simply two devices. It is imperative that the Australian government conduct a full review of their consumer takeback programs, and prosecute any violators for criminal trafficking in hazardous waste.”

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