What is E-Waste and why is it a Problem?

In recent years, the amount of e-waste has been rising at a frightening rate. In Australia, e-waste is the fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream, increasing by 21% from 2014 to 2019. If e-waste continues to pile up, it will cause serious environmental problems and affect the health and well-being of all Australians. Therefore, it’s important for us to do our part in mitigating the increase of e-waste.

As technology progresses, the consumption (and disposal) of electronic products will inevitably rise. This makes e-waste management an increasingly urgent issue. To help you manage e-waste, we will discuss what it is and the dangers that come with it. Additionally, we will discuss the importance of e-waste recycling and degaussing.

What is e-waste?

Essentially, e-waste is any electronic or electrical item that has been thrown away. Various organisations and initiatives categorise the subsets of e-waste differently. That being said, the major categories are generally household appliances, consumer electronics, IT equipment, medical devices and electrical tools. This includes used or broken computer monitors, lamps, circuit boards, microwaves, computer wires, printers and keyboards.

Perhaps the most valuable subset of e-waste is computer electronics. Reports have found that usable computer components make up a significant percentage of e-waste. For example, in Ghana, it was found that in 215,000 tonnes of electronic ‘waste’, 30% was made up of brand-new computer parts. Additionally, here in Australia, only 10% of PCs are recycled across the country.

E Waste Solutions

Why is e-waste increasing?

The increase of e-waste can be attributed to a couple of factors. Firstly, rapid innovations in technology have made electronic devices a necessity in modern society. For example, many school systems now use web applications to accept assignments and track grades. Additionally, due to the ongoing pandemic, a lot of local businesses now use QR codes to keep track of customer numbers. Nowadays, students, workers and customers are almost required to have laptops and smartphones to take part in modern life. And the more people that buy electronics, the more e-waste ends up in landfills.

Secondly, a few companies are now following the business model of planned obsolescence. This is when a business purposely limits the useful life of a product so that the consumer is more or less forced to buy a newer model. Perhaps the most popular and controversial example of this is with Apple’s iPhone line. When the iPhone 7 was released, Apple removed the 3.5mm headphone jack in favour of the Lightning port. This essentially forced users to buy new Apple headphones and dispose of their old ones.

Effect on the environment

When e-waste is disposed of at a landfill, it releases harmful gasses, fumes and liquids into the environment. This includes carcinogens, airborne dioxins and heavy metals. All of these substances find their way into rivers, ponds, the soil and the surrounding air. Chemicals like lead and mercury can significantly affect the health of land animals, sea animals and humans. Additionally, these toxins can also end up in crops and eventually in the food that we eat.

The discharge of these hazardous substances also contributes to the deterioration of the environment. If it continues, we can expect a depletion of natural resources, destroyed ecosystems and the extinction of certain species.

Because e-waste makes up a large percentage of general waste, it’s not surprising that it’s responsible for 70% of the toxic chemicals found in landfills. This is why it’s important to recycle e-waste properly.

E-waste recycling

When it comes to recycling e-waste, there’s a few key things to keep in mind.

Firstly, you need to know what is considered ‘e-waste’ in your local area. Sometimes it’s not clear if an item is categorised as e-waste. Additionally, with constant technological advancements, the list of e-waste items is only getting longer and longer. As a result, it’s important to refer to local government pages for accurate information. In Victoria, anything with a plug, cord or a battery is considered e-waste.

Secondly, you need to understand the regulations regarding the disposal of e-waste. For example, in Victoria, the state government banned e-waste in landfills. This means you can’t place electronic waste in the landfill bin and will have to drop it off at a recycling site.

Finally, you should know your recycling sites. In metro Melbourne, there are a few public sites and libraries that allow you to drop off e-waste. There’s also the Waste and Recycling Centre in West Melbourne. If you live in a building with 20 or more apartments, you can get an authorised representative to arrange an e-waste recycling bin for everyone.

Degaussing

Floppy disks and magnetic tapes are magnetised mediums used to store data. Nowadays, the most common form of a magnetic storage medium is the hard disk drive (HDD). To store data, these mediums create magnetic domains that point to specific magnetic fields.

If you’ve ever wondered how it’s possible to recover lost files, this is how. Even after you’ve deleted a file, there are still magnetic remnants that allow someone to recover the deleted data. This feature is a life saver if you’ve accidentally deleted the essay you spent hours writing. However, it can be troublesome if an unauthorised person recovers private information from your disposed hard drive.

Luckily, with degaussing (also known as erasure) you will be able to ensure that your deleted data is safe and unrecoverable. Degaussing involves randomising the orientation of the magnetic domains, thus making your deleted files unretrievable.

If you’re disposing of e-waste that could potentially hold important information, make sure to take it to an e-waste management specialist to get it degaussed.

Advancements in technology helps us with many aspects of modern life. However, we shouldn’t ignore the adverse effects that it has on our environment. When it’s time to part ways with your laptop or smartphone, be sure to dispose of it the correct way. Additionally, make sure to protect your personal data by degaussing magnetic storage mediums.

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Peter Leos

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