e-Waste is any electronic equipment that is no longer useful as originally intended. e-Waste includes computers, mobile phones, televisions, fax machines, etc. This waste may be donated or sold for re-use, recycled, or disposed of, ending up in landfill.
When e-waste ends up in landfill, many different environmental issues are encountered, due to the materials it contains. International studies show that 70% of heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury, cadmium) in all landfill come from e-waste. By recycling the equipment, the toxic substances can be removed, and resources can be collected for use in new equipment, saving energy in mining and manufacturing, and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The e-waste problem is compounded by the relatively short life-span of electronic equipment and the fast growing volume of electronic devices in the market.
In Australia approximately 140,000 tonnes of e-Waste is currently generated per annum, with only 4% being recycled. Therefore, much more effort needs to be made to re-use this equipment to extend its life, and recycle it at the end of its life.
New recycling plants are being established within Australia to process this waste safely and effectively, and programmes are building momentum. Some electronics manufacturers, such as Apple and Dell, are embracing ‘product stewardship’ and taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of the full life-cycle of their products.
Apple are sponsoring a free event with local councils in Perth on the weekend of 6-7th June 2009 (website, poster) to recycle e-waste from consumers and small businesses. We encourage people to participate in this event, especially if you have been stockpiling any old equipment at home.
These voluntary efforts are to be commended, however, with many electronics manufacturers operating with low margins, an industry-wide self-regulated approach is not viable.
Therefore, governments are working towards introducing regulation. In April 2009 EPHC released a consultation paper titled A National Waste Policy: Managing Waste to 2020, with e-waste on the agenda. Earlier this month, at the 18th Meeting of EPHC:
“Council renewed its support for the development of an ambitious national waste policy by the end of 2009. It agreed to release a draft framework for the national policy, which will draw on the input of stakeholders, for public comment during June and July. The Waste policy will be finalised at the Council Meeting in November. The policy will establish a new national vision and direction for waste for the first time since 1992.”
Local councils, who are burdened with the majority of responsibility at present, welcome such moves.
In the meantime, businesses should think about the steps they can take to tackle this issue. Some action items to consider are:
- Measure the environmental impact of current ICT assets in the corporate asset register.
- Establish an e-waste policy, as part of a Sustainable Procurement Policy.
- Budget for disposal of e-waste during the procurement process.
e-Waste is just one consideration in the practice of Green IT. If you would like assistance in establishing Green IT policies and procedures in your business, please contact Greensense.