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May 29, 2022

The growing cost of electronic waste

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[author]Kate Pye[/author]

It is estimated that Australia’s electronic waste is growing at more than three times the rate of general municipal waste and there is a price to pay.

According to one estimate it costs around $200 to properly recycle one analog television and $17 to bury it in landfill.

It’s instructive to see how our local shires deal with the problems of e-waste.

Since 2009, Byron Council has diverted more than 229 tonnes of e-waste from going to landfill. Although it is now a free service for Byron Shire residents it has indirectly cost Council in excess of $200,000, Jeanie McKillop, coordinator of the North East Waste Forum reports.

The new Product Stewardship Act introduced last year will mean that manufacturers will now have contribute to the processing in form of a licence fee to help cover the cost of recycling. Byron Shire has already proven its ability to manage e-waste and that puts the Council in an excellent position to be included in the new scheme, which will hopefully lift the financial burden from the council’s budget.

According to Byron Council, our electronic waste is transported to Sims Recycling in Queensland. They are the largest electrical recycling company in the world and are major players in the Australian recycling industry. The e-waste is initially sorted by hand and then put through three stages of size reduction. Magnets are used to separate the steel and then other processes are used to separate the aluminium, copper, brass, plastic and glass. Unfortunately the cost of this process far outweighs the value of the materials recovered.

In comparison, Lismore Council makes their residents pay $9 per computer or television dropped off at the tip whilst Ballina Council does not even offer any e-waste disposal options for their residents.

When we called, we were directed to break our computer down and put it in the general rubbish bin headed for landfill.

Unfortunately, for decades this toxic e-waste has filled our landfill sites, leaching dangerous metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury into the surrounding soil and groundwater, and ultimately ending up in us. The health effects of such heavy metals in humans can be devastating; research shows tumours, mental health disorders and cancer are just some of the results.

Also disturbing are the reports that some of Australia’s e-waste is ending up in overseas developing countries such as Ghana under the disguise of ‘secondhand electronic goods’ to avoid the Hazardous Waste Act. The e-waste is then burnt at dumps to melt the plastic down in order to recover the precious metals. Obviously the environmental and health costs associated are devastating and both of these ineffective practices highlight the importance of the new legislation.

In response to community expectations the Byron Shire Council working together with the North East Waste Forum have introduced the disposal service ahead of other councils, so remember it’s a free service. Don’t let your e-waste be waste. The Myocum Tip will accept the following items for recycling:

Computer equipment including desktop PCs; laptops; monitors; hard drives; keyboards; computer mice; computer power supplies; network and memory cards; floppy disc and CD drives.

Business and home office equipment including printers; scanners; mobile phones; photocopiers; fax machines; answering machines; telephones; electronic games and toys – joysticks and computer game consoles.

Entertainment equipment including televisions; videos; DVD players; hi-fi equipment; stereos; speakers; digital cameras and video games.

More information can be found at www.northeastwasteforum.org.au.

Kate Pye is education officer at Solo Resource Recovery, based in Bangalow.

Image: Waste Services Coordinator Trevor Fenn with one weeks worth of electronic waste collected at Byron Shires Myocum Tip.

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