Where The Heck Do I Put My E-Waste?!

I recently came to terms with the fact that my beloved laptop needed to be replaced.

The hour-long battery life, out of date software and missing letter 'T' were no longer part of its charm; it was simply impractical if I ever wanted to get anything done.

However, I faced a dilemma. If my laptop is so old that no one else knows how to use it, let alone wants to adopt it for their own, what is the best, most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of it?

I asked around, and it seems that not many people know what to do with their electronic waste once it's no longer usable. In fact, research conducted by TechCollect showed that 83% of us don't know where to recycle e-waste. So, for those of you who are like me, a self-confessed part of that 83%, I've looked into it - here's what I found.

In Australia, we have a national scheme created by the government, that hands responsibility over to the companies who import or manufacture television and computer products to fund the collection and recycling of the products at the end of their lives.

This system is a form of product stewardship, which acknowledges that those involved in producing, selling, using and disposing of products have a shared responsibility to reduce their impact on the environment. They provide us with over 1800 e-waste recycling drop off points around Australia. You can find your closest television and computer waste collection point here – I discovered one just a few streets from my home!

If you're in Europe or the UK, your e-waste is covered by the Waste, Electronic and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. This means you can return your waste to the retailer, and they are required to dispose of it according to set regulation. In the US, e-waste recycling schemes currently differ between states, so it is best to look up existing systems in your local area. Recently, however, a National Strategy for Electronic Stewardship was formed, so hopefully we will see the introduction of a national e-waste recycling scheme soon! Watch this space...

But what about mobile phones?

While I now have somewhere to take my old laptop, I still have a few old mobile phones lying around my house that aren't covered by this scheme. Luckily, it turns out there is a fairly easy way to dispose of your mobile phones as well! MobileMuster has over 3500 drop off points around Australia for your old phones and their accessories, and since 1998 have collected and recycled over 1323 tonnes of mobile phone components. The best part? If there isn't a drop off zone near you, you can collect a free MobileMuster satchel from your nearest AusPost outlet, and dispose of your mobile e-waste that way.

What happens to your devices once they are out of your hands?

One of the authorised recyclers takes responsibility for disassembling and sorting the raw materials that make up the e-waste. Due to this physical dismantling of the original product, any data left on computers or laptops will be destroyed in the process, so there is no need to be concerned about someone later along the line accessing your personal data. These materials are then despatched all around the world for different uses. Items like steel, copper and aluminium can be recycled on-shore in Australia, and recycling company TES now has recycling facilities in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to reduce the impact of material transportation.

The results? Over 95% of computer and television materials collected are recovered and recycled through the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, while Mobile Muster was able to divert 99% of mobile phone materials from landfill in the last year! For more information on where exactly the materials go and how the process works, check out the Mobile Muster website here.

But why is it so important to recycle your e-waste?

53% of TechCollect survey respondents admitted to putting their e-waste straight in the bin or out for council collection, due to a gap in knowledge about e-waste recycling. These devices will almost certainly end up in landfill, where all the valuable materials that make up our electronics can not not biodegrade, and their future potential is diminished. If you're still unsure what the benefits are of recycling your e-waste, here are 4 compelling reasons to use the freely available recycling facilities:

  1. Recycling e-waste prevents potentially hazardous materials from making their way into landfill, which if leaked could resulting in contamination of nearby water and soil.
  2. It minimises waste in manufacturing, production, use and disposal of devices, allowing up to 99% of raw materials to be recovered and reused for more new products.
  3. This in turn reduces the need to extract raw materials from the earth, saving energy and conserving scarce natural resources. For every tonne of mobile phone components recycles, 9 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are saved.
  4. It encourages the formation of a circular economy, turning waste into resources and connecting products in a life-cycle of consumption and production.

In this fast-paced world of endless updates of products, technology and software, it is vital that we spread awareness of the importance of e-waste recycling. Responsibly disposing of our e-waste brings with it the knowledge that our preloved materials might be reused for something bigger and better in the future. Perhaps this reassurance could be the much sought-after justification to buy yourself that new iPhone…

In saying this, recycling your e-waste this does not free us of all other responsibilities. Be a conscious consumer! Consider the electronic products you buy, whether you need them and how long they will last. Every little step we can take to reduce e-waste will be better for our planet in the long run.

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