Australians love technology. In the top ten global consumers of electronic goods, a 2013 report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals we buy more than 4 million computers and 3 million televisions annually. We upgrade or exchange our mobile phones every eighteen months. Our enthusiasm for new technology has a downside. Electronic waste or e-waste is rapidly becoming the next environmental problem on everyone’s door step.

The disposal and recycling of all these used, or obsolete, products and devices is one issue, as the vast majority end up in landfill. Those dumped in landfill contain both valuable materials that could be recycled, as well as substances hazardous to humans and to the environment. In the USA, about 70% of heavy metals (mercury and cadmium) and 40% of lead in landfills comes from e-waste[1]. The figures in Australia are very similar; a lethal cocktail of toxic substances leaching into our soils and water.

The computer and electronic goods industries have not stood idly by as the problem has escalated. They continue to focus on sustainable innovation as well as use more eco-friendly components. They have ramped up efforts to deal with their products at end-of-use life. Material selection including eco-friendly packaging, establishment of disassembly and recycling protocols and standards, and an emphasis on products that are energy efficient, are some of their green initiatives.

Consumers are also becoming more committed to going green. A growing number value environmentally friendly products and will purchase accordingly. The next step will be to educate consumers and businesses on how best to dispose and recycle e-waste. Recall offers secure media disposal bins supported by an education programme. As 69% of Australia’s obsolete computer equipment is held in storage[2], awaiting disposal, more knowledge combined with industry efforts could balance our love of technology with a greener future.

[1] Widmer et al 2005, Global perspectives on e-waste

[2] Meinhardt 2006, Infrastructure and Environment


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