As electronic consumerism increases, so does the amount of e-waste we produce. People are purchasing an overwhelming number of new smartphones, laptops, tablets and other gadgets daily, and it has caught the attention of the United Nations. Its biggest concern is the effect that e-waste, and the way we dispose of it, has on human health and the environment.
This is especially concerning in Asian countries such as China and Singapore, which are regularly used as “dumping grounds” by developed nations like Australia. According to a report by the United Nations University (UNU), the amount of e-waste in Asia has jumped 63% in five years, and so a serious warning has been issued for “nations across the region to improve recycling and disposal methods.”
Here is the dilemma – developed nations are sending e-waste, filled with valuable raw materials, to underdeveloped countries. These materials include copper, palladium, gold and silver, and so a majority of e-waste does have salvageable parts that can be reused. What Australia considers trash, is treasure to these underdeveloped countries. The problem is that most of these countries do not have the appropriate infrastructure or tools to extract the materials for good use or to improve their e-waste management programs. Australia should be concerned about our e-waste disposal practices, as it directly affects Asia’s. In Asia, discarded electronics are often recycled in cheap, unsafe “backyard factories.”
The rapid e-waste growth issue can be blamed on our obsession with purchasing new electronics so often. However, it is simply unrealistic to expect society to consume electronics any less. We rely on electronics for both work and leisure. In fact, the UNU predicts that e-waste will triple to 120 million metric tons by 2050.
Instead, our focus should be on how to safely recycle the electronics to keep up with consumerism and salvage raw materials, as well as protect the environment and health of the people recycling the e-waste. It is estimated that 20-50 million tons of e-waste is disposed globally on an annual basis, yet only 20% of this is recycled (11 Facts About E-Waste). The same study also estimates that recycling one million mobile phones will recover 16,000 kgs of copper, 350 kgs of silver, 34 kgs of gold and 15kgs of palladium.
The UNU has said that government legislation on e-waste management is crucial to secure a long-term and sustainable solution. This will hold government bodies accountable to ensure an effective system is organised to dispose of the waste properly and in safe hands. Country leaders are working to establish a secure method to do so.
One way to address the issue is to raise awareness and educate. Another way is to encourage everyday people to participate in appropriate disposal practices, to reduce the concern of people who don’t know how to, attempting to get rid of their e-waste themselves. For example, large electronic retailers often encourage customers to trade their old electronics in for a discount when purchasing new ones.
On a larger scale, The University of New South Wales has launched a world-first e-waste microfactory. Funding $16.5 million, Australia has upgraded its existing e-waste collection facilities and storage sites to accommodate to families and small businesses. Using technology developed following research at the UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre), this microfactory is an effective attempt to reduce the e-waste crisis in Australia, before we even consider continuing to use Asia as a “dumping ground,” where we know unsafe and improper disposal methods are taking place. NSW Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton, describes the microfactory as “a NSW home-grown solution to the waste challenges facing communities all over the world.” This is a genuine attempt to reduce the rapid growth of e-waste and lessen the crisis in our own backyards.
Nationwide Waste Solutions places a high concern on effective and eco-friendly e-waste recycling practices. Our team is highly experienced and educated, and we pride ourselves on being transparent with our clients about how their e-waste is disposed of appropriately. Is your business looking for a trusted waste management company?
Contact us today on 1300 729 922 to discuss your sustainable e-waste recycling options.
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