Recycling and disposing of e waste is something that might need to be talked about more often.
In this guide, we talk about the ins and outs of e waste recycling and disposal – including where to do it, how, and why it’s important more focussed is placed on it.
Summary – Recycling & Disposal Of E Waste: Where, How & Why It Happens
E Waste is unlike other types of regular waste (paper, plastic, glass, organic matter etc.).
E waste contains an array of potentially harmful and hazardous chemicals and metals that can cause damage to the environment (soil, water and air pollution), as well as human health, if not managed properly in terms of disposal and recycling.
At the moment, different countries, states and region have different legal requirements and regulations regarding how e waste should be disposed of or recycled.
Some countries and states have stricter laws and regulations where e waste has to be disposed of to hazardous waste streams, or disposed of via a special e waste recycling program or initiative.
In these countries and states, the way in which e waste management is funded can differ too – some places provide free e waste disposal and recycling, whilst other have paid options, or issue a levy when consumers buy electronic products.
Some countries and states have little or no regulations around e waste disposal or recycling (particularly since the 90’s when standard batteries for example significantly had the amount of mercury in them reduced), and a lot of e waste ends up in landfill with regular waste.
To find out whether e waste is specially disposed or recycled in your area – do a search engine search for ‘e waste recycling/disposal in [insert suburb or city here]’. You should see how e waste can be recycled or disposed of, who does it and where you can drop off your e waste. You should also be able to see relevant fees and charges.
Something that is clear is that there is probably a need to pay more attention to how we manage e waste across all countries (considering their potential environmental and human impact, and impact on natural resource depletion).
Whether modern landfills are the best option environmentally, and from a sustainability and human health standpoint, compared to recycling or specialised hazardous material disposal – is something that needs some further discussion going forward.
Adjusting the way we buy electronic products (both regular consumers but also businesses and the industrial sector that buy electronic products), the way electronic products are made, and the way we manage e waste are also areas to look at, as well as more uniformity from country to country, and state to state, in how we do these things.
It’s interesting to note that (some stats according to cleanaway.com.au):
- Every year, [e waste produced globally contains] up to US$ 65 billion worth of raw materials like gold, silver and platinum.
- The amount of global e-waste is expected to increase by almost 17% to 52.2 million tonnes in 2021, or around 8% every year.
- … when handled correctly, at least 90% to 95% of e-waste components can be recycled, greatly reducing the environmental impact of landfill dumping, sourcing new materials, pollution and contamination.
- … only 20% of e-waste is collected and recycled while the fate of the other 80% is unknown, but very likely dumped, illegally traded or recycled under uncontrolled conditions.
- A reasonable portion of the world’s base metals like gold and silver for example go into electronic devices and items
- Printed circuit boards may be one example of an item that has value to recycle, and metals can be recovered from
- [It’s estimated that the recoverable metal value from e waste, particularly discarded printed circuit boards, could go into the hundreds of millions of dollars]
So, it appears that recycling e waste and reclaiming/recovering valuable material from it has some potential as long as it’s practical and economically viable.
Some countries may have more potential than others depending on quantity of e waste currently being produced, and how fast e waste is growing year on year:
- In Australia, e-waste is also the fastest-growing component of the municipal solid waste stream (cleanaway.com.au)
What Is E Waste, & Types Of E Waste
E-waste is any electrical or electronic item that needs a plug or a battery to work.
We are talking electrical/technology type items like TV’s, laptops and computers, home appliances, power tools and more.
Examples of e-waste include:
- entertainment equipment – TVs, VCR and DVD players, remote controls, cameras, game consoles, stereos.
- computers, monitors, hard drives, mice, keyboards, printers, scanners, and other computer peripherals.
- small household appliances – vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, irons, toasters, microwaves, electric mixers.
- electrical tools and electronic devices – drills, electric mowers, sewing machines, solar garden lights.
Why Should We Recycle E Waste?
- To reduce the negative environmental impact e waste can have
- To reduce the negative human health impact e waste can have
- And, for sustainability reasons – to reclaim and recover valuable resources and materials that would otherwise have to be made from virgin materials
To put sustainability and natural resource depletion into context:
- Around 10% of the world’s gold and 30% of silver goes into making electronics, but only 15% to 20% of the 50 million tonnes of e-waste created every year are recycled.
- Besides plastic and glass, electronic devices contain base and special metals such as cobalt, tin and antimony as well as precious metals like silver, gold, and platinum, all of which can be fully recovered.
- [it’s estimated] that 10 ounces of gold can be extracted from every tonne of printed circuit boards, while more than 100 tonnes of gold ore needs to be processed to get the same amount.
- The estimated recoverable metal value from e-waste is about US$370 million, including US$150 million from discarded printed circuit boards alone.
So, there could be additional ways to generate revenue out of e waste whilst also recovering resources.
Where & How To Recycle E Waste (How It Works)?
It differs country to country, state to state, region to region.
Search online for your local area/suburb/council where and how to recycle e waste in your area.
Different states have different regulations for what to do with certain types e waste, where to take them, and how it’s funded.
- California for example has the Electronic Waste Recycling Act which lists certain e waste items to be recycled.
- E-wastes listed in the Act must be taken to a designated handler or recycler.
- There should be listed e-waste handlers or recyclers in your county, or visit the CalRecycle’s Directory of the companies that collect, reuse and recycle electronic wastes.
– calrecycle.ca.gov, and dtsc.ca.gov
Currently under the Act, the following items are covered (but this list may be updated in the future – do not take this list as final):
- Cathode ray tube containing devices (CRT devices)
- Cathode ray tubes (CRTs)
- Computer monitors containing cathode ray tubes
- Laptop computers with liquid crystal display (LCD)
- LCD containing desktop monitors
- Televisions containing cathode ray tubes
- Televisions containing liquid crystal display (LCD) screens
- Plasma televisions
- Portable DVD players with LCD screens
The way recycling of covered electronic devices is funded right now in California is:
- The purchaser of a CED pays a fee at the time of purchase, which is used to pay collectors and recyclers of CEDs that are no longer wanted
- CalRecycle are currently making suggestions to add most devices that require batteries or a power cord to the list of items covered under California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act.
More details about the E Waste Recycling Act can be seen at https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/hazardouswaste/EWaste/MoreInfo.cfm#Electronic_Waste_Recycling_Act
EPA also discusses how people can recycle their e waste, or batteries found in their electronics at https://www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling
- [In some parts of Australia], all e-waste has been banned from landfill since 2013 so it cannot be put in your waste bin at home.
- For disposal, you must take it to an e-waste recycler/specified e-waste drop-off locations.
- Some recyclers do it free of charge, whilst others charge a fee.
- [for] small amounts of e-waste, free drop off sites by TechCollect are located around the country.
- To prevent e-waste from going to landfill, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme was implemented under Australia’s Product Stewardship Act 2011.
- The scheme provides Australian households and small businesses with access to industry-funded collection and recycling services for televisions and computers.
- … municipal e-waste is growing up to three times faster than general waste in Australia …. the country’s e-waste will increase more than 60% to a predicted 223,000 tonnes by the year 2024.
- Ahead of an e-waste-to-landfill ban that takes effect on 1 July 2019, the Victorian Government recently announced a $16.5 million investment to upgrade more than 130 e-waste collection and storage sites across Victoria. This is part of their efforts to reform e-waste management laws, including upgrades that will ensure 98% of Victorians are able to find at least one e-waste disposal point within a 20-minute drive.
When Would It Not Make Sense To Recycle E Waste?
When one or a combination of the following factors is true:
- When an electronic item does not contain any hazardous or harmful chemicals or materials
- When it’s not economically feasible to do so i.e. the cost to recycle is higher than the price/value of the recycled material
- When another option of waste management (such as specialised hazardous waste disposal, or regular landfill disposal) is better from an environmental or human health perspective
Why Should We Dispose Of E Waste Properly?
We are talking about specialised hazardous waste treatment and disposal, or specialised hazardous waste streams – compared to regular general waste streams and disposal.
The reasons to dispose of e waste properly might include
- To reduce the environmental and human health impact they might have in regular landfills, or without being treated or processed properly first
Where & How To Dispose Of E Waste Properly?
It differs country to country, state to state, region to region.
Some countries and states only specify recycling for e waste.
Others may allow e waste to go to landfill with general waste, or to a universal waste stream.
Go online and search how to dispose of e waste properly, if that is what is required in your area.
Potential Environmental & Human Health Concerns With E Waste
As an example in Australia:
- E-Waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Australia and contains many toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and lithium.
- In landfill, e-waste leaches these hazardous substances into the soil and water which can lead to health and environmental problems.
How We Might Address The E Waste Problem
We mentioned some potential solutions in the linked guide (environmental and human health impacts) above.
In addition to those solutions, we can address the issue by:
- educating people on exactly the items they need to recycle
- educating people on the cost of recycling e waste and how funding schemes work
- educating people on where drop off areas are in their area (and making sure they are convenient and and easy to access)
- educating people on how to properly manage and clear data from their electronic items
- educating businesses on how to find recycling services for their company
- Reducing, recycling, repairing and re-using e waste are keys, in addition to getting better society wide e waste recycling and disposal schemes and systems in place