What a Waste...
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What a Waste...

07 March 2013

Much of what's used to make computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices can be recycled, yet 140,000 tons of e-waste is dumped in Australian landfill each year.

All the re-usable materials found in electronic gear such as precious metals, copper and plastics are wasted even though the majority could be recycled. Almost 99% of the components that make up a PC and 90% of materials in a mobile phone can be used again. Recycling one million mobile phones, for example, can recover 9 kg palladium, 24 kg gold, 250 kg silver and a whopping 9,000 kg copper. The average mobile phone battery alone contains 3.5 grams of copper.






Out of the 140,000 tonnes of e-waste dumped each year, only around 4 per cent is being recycled. The problem will only intensify as we continue to buy more and more electronics. Australians upgrade or exchange their mobile phones every 18 months, which means there are approximately 16 million unused mobile phones stashed away at home or in the office. The average working life of a mobile phone is 7 years but worldwide the average consumer changes their mobile every 11 months.


The New York Times reports that people are now more willing to upgrade their TVs as well. The replacement cycle of a TV used to be 10 years but this has shortened to 5-7 years. The life span of a computer also changed from 4-6 years in 1997 to 2 years in 2005 and is further decreasing.


Recycling benefits


By recycling we can avoid serious toxins, chemicals and heavy metals from going to landfill and polluting our environment.
Electronics are made from valuable resources, such as precious metals, copper, and engineered plastics, all of which require considerable energy to process and manufacture. Recycling electronics recovers valuable materials and as a result, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution, save energy, and save resources by extracting fewer raw materials from the earth.


For example:
• Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 US homes in a year.
• One metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the US.
• The recovered metals from mobiles are used by a number of different industries such as jewelry, plating, electronics, automotive, and art foundries.
• The plastics recovered from mobiles are recycled into plastic components for new electronic devices or other plastic products such as garden furniture, license plate frames, non-food containers, and replacement automotive parts.


Useful resources:


Statistics on e-waste: http://www.eoearth.org/topics/view/49558/


Infographic: “Visualising the World’s E-waste problem” http://www.fastcoexist.com/1681368/visualizing-the-worlds-e-waste-problem

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