Most Australian companies who produce a substantial amount of e-waste expect that it will be disposed of via a trusted and authorised recycler. Companies trust that the waste will be disposed of as safely and correctly so it doesn’t have any harmful effects on people or the environment.
However, a recent discovery raises concerns about where Australian e-waste is really being dumped and whether Australia is breaching serious ethical obligations in their e-waste disposal practices.
According to Basel Action Network (BAN), a non-government organisation concerned with toxic e-waste, discovered by using a GPS tracker that computer waste from leading retailer, was shipped to an unauthorised junkyard in Thailand. Not only is the junkyard not approved, but a major Australian business was unaware of how the waste ended up there. The company has since released a statement, saying that they would never “knowingly illegally or unethically” dump their waste. However, what do you think is worse – not knowing about how our e-waste is being disposed of, or not caring?
What’s the problem with Australia’s e-waste?
Furthermore, BAN revealed that just 40% of what the GPS trackers followed were recycled appropriately.
This led to discussions from an ABC investigation last year regarding container loads of Australian e-waste being sent to Ghana, Africa, each month. The investigation alleged that among those container loads were broken computers from St. George’s Bank, a subsidiary of Westpac – unfortunately, another leading Australian company.
It’s been reported that children as young as five are working in these Ghana junkyards, ripping apart the waste with their hands and starting open fires to burn circuits, in desperate attempts to melt out precious metals, such as gold and copper.
If Australia’s e-waste ends up off-shore, why should we care?
So, while our e-waste does contain some precious metals which could boom economies in developing countries, we’re knowingly dumping them in countries where extraction of metals is undertaken using dangerous methods that could cause serious harm (to the locals directly and the environment that they live in).
Direct contact and inhalation of materials such as lead, cadmium and chromium can have toxic effects, including lead poisoning. There’s also the possibility of harmful chemicals contaminating soil, water and food. In fact, according to BAN’s GPS tracking system, the junkyards in Thailand are in close proximity to both rice and mango crops. Such disposal practices cause serious environmental pollution.
These current e-waste disposal practices are unethical and irresponsible. E-waste expert, Libby Chaplin from Arcadian Solutions, believes that “if it was happening in our backyard we would be absolutely horrified.”
What’s Australia doing at the moment?
Australia currently has a National E-waste Recycling Scheme, which has been in effect since 2011. However, it only covers televisions, computers and “associated paraphernalia,” and is said to show a lack of clarity in “who is responsible for what.”
In other words, Australia’s current scheme simply isn’t strong enough. If it were, we wouldn’t have such an issue that even major companies were unaware of.
What is BAN proposing for Australia?
BAN, and other organisations, are encouraging Australia to support an international ban on e-waste exports to developing countries. There are calls for Australia to sign up to a global agreement called the Basel Ban Agreement, which aims to stop Western countries from dumping their waste unethically to landfill in vulnerable countries.
The agreement has been signed by 78 countries, including the UK, China and countries which are part of the European Union. However, it needs just three more signatures for it to be made legal and effective.
While large corporations who produce e-waste should trust in their recycling partners, it’s important for all stakeholders to be in-the-loop about Australia’s e-waste disposal solutions.
At Nationwide Waste Solutions, we provide ethical and socially responsible e-waste services to our clients. To enquire about how we can safely manage your business’ waste, call us on 1300 729 922 or contact us here.
Services provided by Nationwide Waste Solutions include: