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04 Oct 2013

Dealing with E-Waste in Your Home

Electronic waste is a serious global problem that gets bigger each year.  Advances in technology continue to reduce the lifespan of electronic devices, with computers now used for an average of just two years before they reach landfill.  While governments and organisations around the world are developing solutions associated with new product manufacture and e-waste processing, householders can make a positive impact through reduced consumption and recycling.
Rapid changes in technology have allowed e-waste to grow, along with the evolution of media formats and the controversial practice of planned obsolescence.  According to a recent report by UNEP titled "Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources," the United States generate roughly 3 million tons of e-waste each year, with China producing 2.3 million tons and Europe contributing up to 6 million tons.  While overall figures are hard to calculate, there is an estimated 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste generated globally each year.    

The amount of e-waste produced could rise by almost 500 percent over the next decade in some countries, with the developing regions of Africa and Asia used as an electronic scrapyard by the West.  According to Professor Ming Wong, director of the Croucher Institute for Environmental Sciences at the Hong Kong Baptist University, things need to change.  In a recent address at the CleanUp 2013 conference in Melbourne, Wong said "I would call it a global time bomb... [It] is the world's fastest growing waste stream, rising by 3 to 5 per cent every year, due to the decreased lifespan of the average computer from six years to two."

A number of organisations have been created in an effort to stem the e-waste tide, including the Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) initiative.  According to the initiative, “One of the most important aims of the StEP Initiative is to elaborate a set of global guidelines for the treatment of e-waste and the promotion of sustainable material recycling.”  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20 percent of e-waste is recycled, with the rest either incinerated or going to landfill.

Recycling is one of the main solutions to the e-waste problem, with governments, organisations, producers, retailers and consumers all needing to address this issue.  As consumers of electronic products in Australia and New Zealand, there are many ways we can help tackle this problem.  In Australia, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme enables householders and small businesses to drop-off  televisions, computers, printers, and computer products.  There are a number of designated access points, including permanent collection sites, take-back events, and mail-back options.

The situation in New Zealand is mixed, with the cessation of the annual eDay disposal program in 2010 and the initialisation of the RCN e-Cycle project.  The RCN Group are working together with the Community Recycling Network (CRN) to create an e-waste solution accessible to householders and businesses, with 20 collection sites now in operation around the country.  While new government schemes and changing attitudes by electronic producers are critical over the next few years, there are solutions already in place for consumers who want to make a difference.