Not Sure What To Do With Your E-Waste? Here's Where To Start.

Every home has a box full of old cables.

14/10/2016 5:37 AM AEDT | Updated 14/10/2016 4:04 PM AEDT
Look familiar?

Picture a typical household in 2016. Computers, mobiles, printers, iPods, iPads, laptops, hairdryers, old cables and even older Game Boys are abound.

Now picture the depths of the drawers where those products lay to rest.

Electronic waste (or e-waste) is fast-growing in Australia -- at three times the rate of general waste. Fewer than one percent of televisions and around 10 percent of computers are being recycled.

It is our shared responsibility to make sure we are dealing with the products we consume. By having them recycled, we know they are not going to end up in landfill.

But the situation is not entirely grim.

Set up across the country is a national e-waste recycling scheme that coordinates the safe disposal of used electronic products.

"Over the last four years since the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) was introduced, we have seen a significant jump in the level of recycling," CEO of the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform, Carmel Dollisson, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"It is a concept that once understood is readily followed...The biggest issue that we face is, 'I don't know what to do and I don't know where to start'."

What happens to my e-waste?

There are a number of e-waste recycling programs that work with local governments and councils across the country.

One of these is TechCollect, a service operated by ANZRP which collects used computers, televisions, printers and peripherals.

TechCollect is the only not-for-profit industry backed service under the NTCRS.

"When someone drops a product into one of our collection sites, it goes into one of our collection units," Dollisson said.

When the unit is filled, it is then delivered to a recycler where the materials are broken down.

"Each individual device is unscrewed and taken apart. All the different components are then recycled for recovery with at least 90 percent of them taken back to a raw commodity to be used in the manufacture of another product."

What about my data?

According to Dollisson, this is one of the issues hindering e-waste recycling.

"People are concerned about what will happen to their data.

"We ask that they remove their data prior to dropping their products in -- it is relatively easy to do so."

Buying your e-products

Being part of the solution to Australia's growing e-waste epidemic starts with being smart from the start.

"We encourage consumers to think about the products when they are buying," Dollisson said.

"Buy from manufacturers that are doing the right thing and are supporting take-back programs. These are the ones who will make sure that at the end of the life of your product, they will look after it."

What happens to my e-waste if I pop it into my regular garbage bin?

"It will end up in landfill," Dollisson said. Simple.

How about my recycling bin?

"Some people think that if they put e-waste into their recycling bin, it will end up being recycled. This isn't the case, either," she said.

Sorting stations for most household recycling are not equipped to handle electrical products that require specific disposal technology.

"The recycling bin has very specific products that can be placed in there that do end up getting recycled. If you put other products in there, they will end up in landfill."

As well as putting more pressure on limited landfill capacity, e-waste contains toxic materials and can be hazardous.

"We really need to ensure these products don't enter landfill. When left poorly-managed, these can leak into the water system and pose serious damage to the environment," Dollisson said.

Not the same as your yellow bin.

What about council pick-ups?

This is also an avenue to avoid.

"Usually in this case, scavengers will get to the products first and that increases the concern around data," Dollisson said.

"They tend to take anything of value, leaving them broken on the nature strip. When it gets to the recycler, it becomes difficult to handle and costly to process."

As a result, tossing out your used cords and ancient Mac desktops for your next council pick-up won't do you -- or the environment -- any favours.

Which products can be recycled and where?

For those who make the effort to recycle their electronics, this is the next hurdle.

The first step is to find your nearest drop-off site or tap into the various recycling services on offer, each collecting different products:

Tech Collect:

  • Personal and laptop computers (and all cables)
  • Tablets and notebooks
  • Computer monitors and parts (internal hard drives and CD drives)
  • Computer accessories (mice, keyboards, web cameras, USBs and modems)
  • Printers, faxes, scanners and multi-functional devices

All products will be accepted regardless of brand or age. A full list can be found here.

Cartridges 4 Planet Ark:

  • Used printer cartridges

Cartridges 4 Planet Ark operates in partnership with a range of manufacturers (such as Brother, Canon and HP) and retailers (Australia Post, Officeworks and Harvey Norman, to name a few).

Mobile Muster:

  • All brands and types of mobile phones
  • Batteries
  • Chargers
  • Accessories

Local councils will often schedule e-waste drop-off days throughout the year, such as this one coming up on Saturday October 15 in Sydney.

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