The Dirt on E-waste Processing
- E-waste processing in Australia is not as “green” as it seems
- Much of the E-waste generated in Australia is exported for final processing — increasing the risk of mishandling or environmental tragedy
- Choosing an effective and ethical E-waste partner is achievable
For many forward-thinking companies and development teams, sending anything to landfill is distressing, especially if your trash may be reused or recycled. At Exa, when we began to formalise a sustainability program, we quickly realised that E-waste recycling was not as simple, or more shockingly, as “green” as it seemed.
In mid-2019, the Victorian government made it illegal to send E-waste to landfill, causing a surge of interest in recycling facilities – keen profiteers began to pop-up, eager to benefit from new legislation and do-gooders. This increased demand, and subsequent increase in vendor options, has made finding an appropriate and ethical E-waste partner more challenging than it should be.
In this post, I’ve collated information from my own E-waste journey into an easy guide for Australian businesses – ensuring your good intentions make maximum impact.
‘Ensuring your good intentions make maximum impact.’
E-waste recycling process in Australia
Before we begin, it’s worth understanding how E-waste is processed in Australia; that way, you’ll be empowered in discussing your needs with potential recycling partners.
When a recycler receives a mixed load of E-waste, the first thing they do is sort the waste into different streams: televisions, CRT monitors, PCs, computer peripherals, etc. The main purpose of this stage is to segregate harmful materials early-on which prevents contamination and protects the individuals who handle the goods.
Once the waste has been sorted into each processing stream, the goods are partially dismantled, further reducing the hazardous materials that will go into the shredder. Hazardous materials that are identified in this stage are: mercury tubes (found in old computer monitors), batteries, ink and toner cartridges, and other particularly harmful chemicals and substances.
Next, the waste will go through a series of shredding and sorting processes which seek to break-up the E-waste so that each material type is easily sorted into separate bins.
Each material type requires a different process to convert it from a shredded mixture into a form that manufacturers can use. Because of this, the recycler will usually send the separated materials to down-stream partners for further processing. This is where some of the worst environmental impacts can occur as there is a vast variance between the best and worst operators. Unfortunately, for many materials, there are no processing facilities in Australia; this requires recyclers to export waste overseas, potentially losing control over this critical last step in the E-waste recycling process.
It’s not all bad news, countries like Japan house some of the most cutting-edge material reclamation facilities and lead the world in research to improve these processes. They also have strict environmental legislation which ensures these processes are not harmful to ecosystems and communities.
There are typically three types of E-waste recycling providers in Australia: aggregators, sorters, and processors. Aggregators collect and deliver, sorters separate the waste into separate material streams, and processors will turn the sorted waste into usable raw materials for manufacturing.
Choosing the right provider
The E-waste marketplace is brimming with different services and products – all positioned as professional and sustainable custodians of your businesses’ E-waste. To ensure that your E-waste will be processed correctly and ethically, it is vital to choose a provider that is transparent and traceable in their processes. This step is by far the most difficult, but the most crucial when selecting an E-waste partner. A powerful way to evaluate the best organisational fit for your business can be through asking a few simple questions:
‘A powerful way to evaluate the best organisational fit for your business can be through asking a few simple questions.’
- What processes do you complete in-house and what do you outsource?
- What downstream providers do you use?
- Do you have traceability through all downstream providers?
- What are your environmental protection policies?
- Are you compliant to the relevant standards (AS/NZS 5377:2013)?
If the recycler is happy to talk-through the above points and instills confidence in their operations, then you’re in good hands!
With E-waste becoming a growing problem in landfill, in our businesses, and in our homes, it is more important than ever to reuse and recycle these products as much as possible. Precious metals, plastics, and toxic materials are all hidden within your old electronics and can easily be saved from landfill by directing your waste to an appropriate recycler.
Unfortunately, no business can ever be 100% certain that E-waste is being recycled responsibly, but, by increasing your knowledge of the processes involved, and by asking the right questions, you can make an informed decision that will eliminate the questionable operators from your list – the environment will surely thank you!
BONUS: A quick guide to choosing the right service
Step #1: Looking after the E-waste in your business
So, you’ve selected an E-waste partner, now what? Select an environmental leader in your organisation to champion the cause and coordinate the operation. Your environmental leader may start by clearing out all the nooks and crannies in the office to gather-up old electronics that are no longer required. You may also encourage your team to bring in old and broken E-waste from home, especially since so many organisations are making the shift to “work from home ”.
Step #2: Identify your waste types
What types of products do you regularly need to dispose of? Is it IT equipment like keyboards and monitors, printed circuit boards, batteries, or ink and toner? There are dedicated services for popular types of E-waste, and, if you only need to dispose of one kind, such as printer cartridges, it can be better to use these specialised services to reduce manual handling and sorting.
Another key consideration is the protection of proprietary information. This is particularly important if you are disposing of items such as prototypes or hard drives which may contain sensitive information or trade secrets. Most providers offer secure destruction with full traceability, but, make sure you mention this when obtaining quotes as it can be an extra charge.
Step #3: How much space do you have?
There is a myriad of options for onsite E-waste collection. Most suppliers will have a range of sizes from archive boxes to skip bins, and everything in-between.
Step #4: How much waste do you produce?
Your volumes will greatly drive the type of service you require. Most providers will have scheduled collections (weekly/monthly/quarterly) or ad-hoc as required.
Want to discuss or learn more? Reach out to Exa Product Development – contact or connect with us!