What is e-waste and why is it so important?

Australian’s spend more than $9.5Billion a year on gadgets and, on average, we each spend an additional $4,745 annually on household appliances. [1] Electronic items can make our homes more efficient, increase our standard of living and even improve our carbon emissions.

However, with reduced costs of electronics and rapid advances in technologies, we are discarding our electronics and appliances at an astonishing rate. This is resulting in e-waste being one of the fastest growing types of waste in both Australia and the world.[2]


What is e-waste?

E-waste (electronic waste) comprises of electronic equipment such as televisions, computers, mobile phones and whitegoods.  Other types of e-waste include:

  • Large household appliances: electric radiators, air conditioners, electric fans
  • Small household appliances: vacuum cleaners, carpet sweepers, irons, electric knives, electric shavers
  • IT and telecommunications equipment: mainframes, copying equipment, telephones
  • Consumer equipment: radios, video cameras, DVD/VCR/CD players and recorders, speakers
  • Electrical and electronic tools: sewing machines, drills, saws, welding tools, electric mowers and tools for other gardening activities
  • Toys, leisure and sports equipment: electric trains or car racing sets, hand held video game consoles, sports equipment with electric or electronic components
  • Automatic dispensers: automatic dispensers for drinks or food

 what makes e-waste.png

In 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste and only 20% was recycled through appropriate channels; even though 66% of the world’s population has regulated e-waste legislation.[3]

In Australia, our results were even worse.  

E-waste is currently being sent to Australian landfills at three times the rate of general waste.[4] This is primarily due to lack of education of how to recycle combined with the high cost to process e-waste. It costs roughly $1,500 per metric ton to dispose e-waste components safely.[5] According to the Global e-waste monitor, in 2014 Australia discarded 20kg of e-waste per person and we only recycled 5% of this![6]

 Australia e-waste statistics.png

What can be recycled?

According to the South Australian Government, around 90% of what is used to make televisions and computers can be recycled, and 98% of your mobile phone can be recycled and put back into the supply chain for new products.  Other recycling innovations from e-waste include:

  • The glass in CRT televisions contains a high concentration of lead which can be used as flux material to remove slag from newly mined lead and the glass can be used to manufacture new televisions and computers.
  • Whitegoods can be recycled back into other whitegoods; aluminium products and the plastic can even be used in toys!
  • Circuit boards can be shredded down to a fine powder and separated into plastics and precious metals which are able to be used for items ranging from jewellery to computer chips.
  • Plastic casings can be turned into pellets and used for resins for new products or fuels.

See other innovative products made from recycled materials here.

So why is recycling e-waste so important?

E-waste is rapidly consuming our landfills and the contents are not disposable; meaning they may take more than 100 years to decompose.  The increase in e-waste is decreasing our overall landfill capacity; resulting in governments having to expand landfill size.

E-waste also contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and brominated fire retardants that are hazardous, difficult to dispose of and potentially damaging to the environment.  [7]

The ABS forecast that if 75% of the 1.5 million televisions discarded annually were recycled there would be savings of 23,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents, 520 mega litres of water, 400,000 gigajoules of energy and 160,000 cubic metres of landfill space. [8]


How to recycle and reduce e-waste

There are more than 1,800 collection points across Australia where householders and small businesses can drop off their unwanted televisions, computers and accessories for free.[9] Australian’s can recycle e-waste simply by visiting one of these centres. To find out where your closest e-waste recycling facility is visit: http://recyclingnearyou.com.au/

In addition to recycling your e-waste, you can also recycle your ink cartridges. Planet Ark’s Close the Loop Program takes used ink cartridges and creates a number of enviro-solutions including: using toner’s to make TonerPave™ road surfaces, recycling inks into low grade printing applications, using clean plastic streams in various applications or made into 90% recycled EnviroLiner felt tip pens, extracting metals for new products and utilising other materials and contaminated plastics for recycled eWood™ – a timber replacement product used to make items such as outdoor furniture, fencing and garden edging. Read more here:  http://cartridges.planetark.org/involvement/  


Looking forward to the future of e-waste (It’s not all bad news: we are improving!)

In 2011, Australia implemented the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme which is one of the most significant producer responsibility schemes to be implemented in Australia.  This scheme provides Australian households and small businesses with access to industry-funded collection and recycling services for televisions and computers with an aim to increase TV and computer recycling rates to 80% by 2021-22.[10]

This system appears to be working. An estimated total of 122 kilotons (kt) of TV and computers reached end-of-life in Australia in 2014–15, out of which around 43 kt were recycled (35%). This is a huge improvement from 9% in 2008.  [11]

In South Australia, whitegoods have been banned from direct landfill disposal since September 2011 and computers, televisions and fluorescent lighting from metropolitan Adelaide have been banned from being disposed of directly to landfill since September 2012.

Like other recycled materials, technology will play a vital role in the increased recycling of e-waste.  However, unlike other recyclable materials, e-waste still requires a majority of manual labour to pull apart and separate each material in every electronic item; making the system costly for operators. 

Container Deposit Systems (CDS) has seen a rapid growth in new recycling innovations and trends over the past 12 months. In addition to this, Australian government’s (state) and industry has increase financial and regulation support. With further education for consumers combined with advancements in artificial intelligence, CDS forecast e-waste recycling facilities to become one of the largest recycled materials within the next 10 years.


About Container Deposit Systems (CDS)

CDS was formed with a vision to oversee the implementation of improved operational practices in recycling facilities.  The company offers a range of services to recycling depot facilities to drive productivity improvements and transition traditional recycling facilities into modern technically advanced operators.

CDS achieve this through patented technologies which deliver manufacturing automation to auto-sort materials via a highly sensitive multi-sensor integration.  Systems integrations enable facilities to further gain efficiencies through workflows, materials handling, logistic processes, facility layout and design, customer interaction and data acquisition and management. 

CDS technologies are designed and manufactured in Australia with local partners Sage Automation and Macweld Engineering.



[1] https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/managing-your-money/budgeting/spending/australian-spending-habits
[2] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/4602.0.55.005~2013~Main+Features~Electronic+and+Electrical+Waste?OpenDocument#footnote4
[3] https://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6341/Global-E-waste_Monitor_2017__electronic_single_pages_.pdf
[4] http://www.cleanup.org.au/files/clean_up_australia_e-waste_factsheet.pdf
[5] http://go.galegroup.com.proxy.library.adelaide.edu.au/ps/i.do?&id=GALE|A220468422&v=2.1&u=adelaide&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&authCount=1
[6] https://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6341/Global-E-waste_Monitor_2017__electronic_single_pages_.pdf
[7] https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/d075c9bc-45b3-4ac0-a8f2-6494c7d1fa0d/files/national-waste-report-2016.pdf
[9] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-22/e-waste-what-happens-to-old-computers-televisions-and-mobile/8372516
[10] https://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6341/Global-E-waste_Monitor_2017__electronic_single_pages_.pdf
[11] https://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6341/Global-E-waste_Monitor_2017__electronic_single_pages_.pdf