How to Recycle E-waste and Why We Should All be Recycling Our Phones
How often do you get a new phone or have to get a new phone because you’ve smashed the screen? What do you do with the old one? Hoard it in a drawer somewhere?
The second series of War on Waste highlighted the issue of e-waste and shared the statistic that there are 25 million unused mobile phones lurking in Australian homes! This is more than the country’s entire population.
And e-waste doesn’t only include mobile phones, it also includes televisions, laptops, cameras, tablets, CDs, DVDs, VHSs, batteries, and all the accessories that come with all the technology we accumulate.
According to Global E-waste Monitor 2017, Oceania generates the most e-waste per person, so Australia is guilty of adding loads to the e-waste pile. And e-waste is said to be the fastest growing waste stream in the country – even faster than municipal waste.
Luckily, a lot of it can actually be recycled. In fact, up to 90% of the materials in phones, TVs and computers can be recycled.
So, where can we offload these items so that the resources they are made of can be recycled and reused? And, how can we ensure that any personal details that may be on our old mobile phones or computers are deleted and not accessible after we drop them off?
Also, where does this e-waste go? This is important because it is not only toxic to the environment, but toxic to people as well.
Lastly, and importantly, how can we stop creating all this e-waste in the first place?
Where to recycle mobile phones
Mobile Muster has drop-off points around Victoria or you can post it in to them. It accepts old mobile phones, tablets, chargers and accessories, as well as smart watches.
The programme’s retail partners include: Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Samsung, Officeworks and Salvos, so you can drop your cellphone off at one of these stores. Some local councils and workplaces also participate in the programme.
Where to recycle computers and tablets
Officeworks recycles desktops, laptops, computer mice, monitors, printers, scanners, multifunction printers, keyboards, computer power supplies, printed circuit boards, motherboards, network cards, disks and CD drives.
Australia’s National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme also recycles old computers through TechCollect, Drop Zone, E-Cycle Solutions, and Sims Recycling Solutions. They can be dropped off for free at designated collection points.
Or, computer equipment can be disposed of through hard rubbish collections.
Where to recycle TVs
Australia has a National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. It’s a free service and there are designated collection points across Victoria. It recycles old TVs, as well as computers and computer products.
Televisions and computer equipment can also be disposed of through hard rubbish collections.
Where to recycle cameras, CDs, DVDs, VHSs, and batteries, as well as cords and accessories
Many council transfer stations have an e-waste recycling drop-off component for items like cameras, CDs, DVDs, VHSs, and batteries, as well as cords and accessories. Fluorescent tubes and light bulbs can also be disposed of at most of these.
You’ll find bins dedicated to battery recycling at Aldi supermarkets or Battery World stores, as well as Officeworks, which also bins for ink and toner cartridges, and discs.
Batteries that can be recycled in these bins include AA, AAA, C, D and 9V batteries, and both rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries can be recycled. For safety reason, you need to placing tape over the terminals of all 9V and 6V batteries before recycling them. This reduces the risk of fire.
Waste management companies MRI e-cycle solutions, which recycles most e-waste and batteries, and SUEZ , which takes batteries and a lot of other e-waste, will send out boxes to fill and return (for a fee). These are a good option if you’re a business that uses a lot of batteries.
Mobile phone batteries are accepted as part of the MobileMuster program and computer batteries can be recycled with the computer or via Battery World, MRI e-cycle solutions and SUEZ’s battery recycling programmes. Most garages, transfer stations and waste management centres will recycle car batteries.
How to clear a phone or computer before recycling it
You’re going to want to clear your phone and computer of all your files and information before you recycle it.
Just deleting is not enough! This data can still be retrieved.
Do a factory reset to get rid of all the data. This, however, still doesn’t ensure everything is gone for good.
You can also contact the item’s manufacturer and ask them how best to securely wipe data.
If you really need it to be completely wiped and the information on it to be 100% secure, you’ll need to take it to a data destruction expert.
To delete data off a phone before recycling it, Sustainability Victoria’s advises following this process:
- Do a data backup
- Log out of all online accounts and social media via the administration and security settings
- Reset your phone to erase all the data from the internal storage by following the instructions in the user guide or on the manufacturer’s website
- Remove your SIM and memory card
It recommends a similar but slightly more detailed process when deleting data off a computer before recycling:
- Do a data backup
- Save the software serial numbers of any installed software
- Remove programs and have a plan in place for software licenses and any programs you want to use on your new computer
- Delete your browsing history, clear your cookies, sign out of all online accounts and social media, deselect automatic login in all your accounts, and make sure your passwords have not been saved by your browser
- Delete the contents of the hard drive by dragging everything into the recycle bin and then deleting the contents of the recycle bin
Where does our e-waste go?
Inside our e-waste is precious resources like gold and copper, as well as toxic metals. This is why it should never go in the bin – these limited, valuable resources can be reused and the hazardous materials must be kept out of our soil and water.
Tracking e-waste is currently voluntary under Australian laws. Only the EU has laws that require producers of e-waste to track it to ensure it is not disposed of unsafely.
So, shockingly, we can’t be sure where our e-waste goes and if it is contributing to the illegal trade of e-waste at the moment. This is not just an environmental problem, but a humanitarian problem as well as it is processed under unsafe conditions and this is often done by children who are especially vulnerable to its toxicity.
The good news is that e-waste will no longer accepted in landfill sites across Victoria from 1 July 2019 and will have to be recycled. According to Sustainability Victoria, to ensure this ban works, “the Victorian Government is allocating $15 million in grants to local councils to upgrade infrastructure at more than 130 recycling sites, making recycling locations accessible to as many Victorians as possible”.
A lot of companies these days, especially technological corporations, act under the principle of planned obsolescence. This means that a product is built to have a limited useful life and to become obsolete after a certain period of time.
This is the opposite of a circular economy and is designed to keep customers buying more products.
The next time you invest in new technology, or any new product, look into the company’s policies around repairs and replacements and recycling. A responsible company will repair their products and offer replacement parts instead of suggesting you simply buy a new one and a sustainably minded company will have processes in place for the recycling of the components of its products.
Choose products from companies that consider these issues and the earth and that are moving towards being part of a circular economy. For instance, my next phone, when I really need a new one, will be a Fairphone, or a similar modular phone that has individual components that can be replaced if another option has come out by then.
The Fairphone is the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone. The company is all about long-lasting design, fair materials, good working conditions, and reuse and recycling. It sells spare parts and offers repair tutorials to ensure their phones are as useful for as long as possible.
This is what companies should be doing. This is how customers and the earth’s resources should be treated.
How can we stop creating all this e-waste in the first place?
Only buy new technology if you really need it, not because you want the new model. Do you really need an upgrade? In Australia, mobile phones are usually replaced before they stop working and most people replace them every one to three years.
Buy second hand products rather than new ones or ask around if anyone has one lying around and if buying new, choose quality, long lasting products that you’ll be able to use for a long time and that can be repaired.
When it comes to printers and scanners and similar technology that you only use once in a blue moon, don’t buy, borrow. Go to the local library when you need to print or scan something or a business centre or a friends’.
Battery use can be reduced by using appliances powered by mains power instead if possible and by connecting appliances that use batteries to the mains power where possible. In addition, buy rechargeable batteries not single-use ones. These can be recharged thousands of times, saving you from having to buy new ones.