What is e-waste?
E-waste is a broad term used for any kind of electronic or electrical product that has a plug or battery that has come to its ‘end of life’. It includes everything from TVs, computers and mobile phones to batteries and kitchen appliances.
E-products is perhaps a better way to refer to them because they are certainly not waste. In fact, they often contain valuable materials like plastic and precious metals including gold, silver, platinum, nickel, zinc, aluminium and copper. These materials can easily be recovered and recycled into something new, which prevents electronics being made from new or ‘virgin’ materials. Recycling your old electronics keeps these materials in use in the circular economy and out of landfills.
HOW ARE THE ELECTRONICS RECYCLED?
As with any product, we encourage everyone to reduce, reuse, and repair before recycling. Electronics collected for recycling are generally manually disassembled and assorted into various components. These individual materials such as cabling, circuit boards, glass, metals, and plastics are then processed so they can be used in the production of new products.
- Computers and accessories can often be refurbished and made available to communities in need. If this is not an option, individual materials such as cabling, glass, circuit boards, and plastics are recycled.
- Mobile phones, routers, modems and other smart devices are disassembled into component parts, which are then transported to local and overseas recyclers for processing. Materials recovered are used in the manufacture of a range of products, including new mobile phones and their batteries, glass bottles, and other electronics.
- White goods such as fridges and washing machines contain hazardous materials that are safely removed so the rest of the product can crushed and shredded for recycling.
- Electrical appliances such as DVD players, alarm clocks, cameras, toasters and radios can often be repaired, which keeps the materials in use at their highest value for longer. When they are recycled, many of the materials including glass, copper, plastics, metals and precious metals are recovered for further processing to be used in the manufacture of new products.
- Printer Cartridges contain leftover ink as well as plastic. When collected for recycling, the toner is used as an additive to recycled road surfaces and the ink is reused as 100% recycled artists’ ink. The plastics are shredded and made into various products like outdoor furniture, play equipment and pens.
- Batteries contain materials like lead, cadmium, mercury, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc which can be recovered and used again to make new batteries. These materials are very valuable because they are all 'non-renewable', which means there is a finite amount of these resources on our planet. They can also be recycled an infinite number of times!
Electronics can also contain toxic and hazardous materials. It is therefore important they are handled, recycled, and disposed of in a regulated and responsible manner. Product Stewardship Schemes work to minimise the health and environmental impact of a product over its entire lifecycle, from design, production, distribution, sale and use to disposal, recovery, reuse and recycling. Schemes for electrical products include:
- The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme was introduced in 2011 by the Australian Government. It is a national, industry-funded, recycling scheme, which prevents millions of old TVs, computers and computer accessories from being sent to landfill by providing opportunities for the community to recycle them free of charge.
- MobileMuster is the official recycling program of the mobile telecommunications industry. It is a free not-for-profit recycling program funded voluntarily by major handset manufacturers and network carriers and is accredited by the federal government.
- Cartridges 4 Planet Ark is a voluntary Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program that is supported by the following participating manufacturers: Brother, Canon, Cartridge World, Epson, HP and Kyocera. Collectively, these brands are taking responsibility for the end life of their products by providing a free recycling service for their customers.
- B-cycle is Australia's official battery stewardship scheme due to launch in early 2022.
Victorian e-waste ban
The Victorian Government has banned electronic waste from being sent to landfill. Find out more about the e-waste ban in Victoria including recycling options for different types of electrical items.
A common concern about recycling old electronics is a fear of data on devices being accessed. All data should be wiped from a device before handing it over for recycling. MobileMuster has some great data management tips for removing data from mobile phones. TechCollect also has useful information on deleting data from computers and other devices.