As electronic devices increasingly dominate modern life, the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) being generated is growing fast, and is causing serious environmental problems.
However, the e-waste recycling rate remains low globally, so increasing the amount of e-waste being recycled is emerging as one of the more significant global sustainability challenges, and one that many families aren’t fully aware of.
Read on to learn how kids and their parents can get involved in being part of the e-waste recycling solution.
Let’s start by defining e-waste: E-waste is any electrical or electronic equipment that’s ready to be discarded. It includes common electrical items such as home appliances, computers, smartphones, TVs, printers, copiers, stereos, and video game systems.
For most families, these electronic items are regularly thrown out when they are being replaced by newer, upgraded products and technologies.
It’s become such a normal part of modern life to discard electrical items when an older technology becomes outdated, and that explains why Australian e-waste is growing up to three times faster than general municipal waste.
E-waste is a particularly dangerous type of waste for the environment. When it is buried in landfill, most electrical items leak out poisonous chemicals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium into the air and ground. These toxic chemicals often leach through to the groundwater underneath the landfill they are buried within.
Unfortunately, this toxic chemical flow is rarely limited to the area underneath the landfill, and often connects with local freshwater sources, causing health challenges for the wildlife who consume the toxic water. It’s a significant problem. In fact, e-waste is responsible for 70% of the toxic chemicals found in our landfills and waterways. That explains why e-waste recycling is so important.
E-waste recycling involves the reprocessing and reusing of e-waste by either finding a new user for older electronic items, or utilising the discarded electronic components in the construction of new electronic products.
E-waste recycling is all about keeping hazardous chemicals out of our landfills, and ultimately out of our air, ground, and water systems. It’s also a powerful sustainability strategy which ensures valuable resources are reused rather than discarded.
E-waste recycling is increasingly being enforced by law. For example, putting your e-waste into your rubbish bin is already illegal in Victoria and South Australia, and the other states are generally working towards a similar ban.
So how can kids and their parents recycle their e-waste when they are throwing out their older electronic items? Well, the good news is there are a number of great e-waste recycling options accessible to all families. For most of these options, kids may need a little help from their parents.
Firstly, you can sell your old electronic items on websites like Gumtree, utilising the well-known advice that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. By doing this, you’re not only recycling your e-waste in a wonderfully efficient way, you’re also making some money in the process. It’s a win-win.
Secondly, if your old electronic items still work, you could consider donating them to a local charity. This is a great way of ensuring someone else can use your old electronic items, often at for far lower price than purchasing a new item. By doing so, you’ve hopefully helped someone else in the process.
Thirdly, you can often return your old electronic items to the companies you are buying your new electronic products from. For example, Appliances Online will collect your old appliances when they deliver your new appliances, and then they arrange for the old appliances to be recycled. Before going down this path, it’s worth checking the company in question has a comprehensive e-waste recycling strategy in place to ensure all of your e-waste is being recycled.
And finally, you can drop off your electronic items at a recycling drop-off point or use an e-waste collection service. The best way to learn about your local e-waste recycling and drop-off services is to check your local council’s website for details. In most cases, local councils will list out drop-off points and collection services for each type of electronic item. For example, the Brisbane City Council website includes numerous recycling options for all common types of e-waste.
So how does e-waste recycling benefit the environment?
The most significant environmental benefit of e-waste recycling is the reduction in the amount of hazardous material leaking into our air, ground, and water from the e-waste which would otherwise be buried in landfill. This is a big deal given the enormous amount of e-waste the world creates these days.
Last year, 57.4 million tonnes of e-waste was generated globally, and there is now known to be over 347 million tonnes of unrecycled e-waste on earth. One of the more shocking statistics is that only 17.4% of e-waste we produce is currently being collected and properly recycled. That means 82.6% of the growing annual global e-waste pile is being left to continue causing dangerous and long-term pollution problems. You can see why increasing the portion of e-waste being recycled is such an urgent global issue.
One of the less understood benefits of e-recycling relates to climate change. Every time an e-waste item isn’t recycled, new raw materials are needed to build new electronic devices. That means an additional and unnecessary carbon footprint is created every time e-waste is not being recycled.
In addition, the refrigerants inside refrigerators and air conditioners (both common e-waste items) are also greenhouse gases which further add to the climate change problem. Discarded fridges and air conditioners are estimated to contribute 0.3% of global energy-related emissions.
And finally, one of the major benefits, is that recycling e-waste effectively lowers future demand for precious resources. For example, did you know that over 90% of e-waste can be recycled to reclaim high value resources such as gold, silver, platinum, tin, copper, cobalt, nickel, zinc and aluminium? E-waste recycling ensures we reuse all the resources we can, thereby improving the long-term sustainability of important supply chains while ensuring future resource price increases are moderated.
So improving the e-waste recycling rate is a big deal and is becoming more urgent all the time. The good news is there are numerous options available to families to ensure they recycle their e-waste rather than sending it to landfill.
Whether it be selling old electronic items or dropping them off at recycling centres, the key is to take proactive action to ensure your e-waste is being recycled. The e-waste pollution problem isn’t going away in a hurry, but if we all take the necessary action we can eventually address the challenge, thereby creating more sustainable futures for us and our kids alike.
And while we’re talking about actions which lead to positive long term changes, check out the latest Genus missions which blend online fun with real world missions to help kids build a brighter, more sustainable future. Genus makes it easy for kids to start their sustainability journeys on a positive pathway.