Did you know that tens of millions of items of electronic waste, from laptops, to old monitors and TVs and smaller products – are dumped into landfill every year? They contain highly toxic materials as well as rare precious metals. Many other countries have had e-waste recycling schemes for years, but Australia lagged behind with a paltry 17% recycling rate for TVs and computers and much less for other items in 2012. It was just not good enough.
Computer monitors, for example, have lead in their cathode ray tubes, cadmium in their batteries, mercury in the back‐lamps for their LCD screens and beryllium in switches, motherboards and electrical conductors. Mobile phones have nickel in their springs and electrical contacts, flame retardant antimony as an alloying agent, and arsenic in their microelectronics. These critical elements are highly polluting in landfills where they come into contact with soil, air and water.
Quite rightly many people believe we should be recycling our used electronic items and not discarding them. Total Environment Centre and other members of the Boomerang Alliance ran a campaign for over seven years which resulted in the introduction of a new national scheme in 2012. The product stewardship scheme requires all producers or importers of TVs and computers to fund and meet ever increasing recycling targets.
The starting target was 30% - not very impressive in view of the avalanche of e-waste! It will gradually rise to 80% in 2030. While welcoming a legally enforceable scheme and the establishment of drop-off centres across the country, we are continuing to campaign for a much better outcome.
The federal government reviewed the scheme in 2015 and has now announced the targets will be increased to 50% (and rising), instead of 37% from 2016 , but it will still be many years before 80%, let alone 100% is achieved. A ban on e-waste to landfill will hurry them up. South Australia, the ACT and Victoria have instituted bans - check out the Vic policy assessment here.
The government and the industry also expect that local councils will pick up the slack in the interim. This means that ratepayers will pay, instead of the industry. This is not a good example of extended producer responsibility! We also need to bring other hand held electronic items and batteries into the program. A new group - EWaste Watch is also active.