Where next on e-waste in Australia?
Waste Management, December 2016
Artem Golev, Diego R. Schmeda-Lopez, Simon K. Smart, Glen D. Corder, Eric W. McFarland
For almost two decades waste electrical and electronic equipment, WEEE or e-waste, has been considered a growing problem that has global consequences. The value of recovered materials, primarily in precious and base metals, has prompted some parts of the world to informally and inappropriately process e-waste causing serious environmental and human health issues. Efforts in tackling this issue have been limited and in many ways unsuccessful. The global rates for formal e-waste treatment are estimated to be below the 20% mark, with the majority of end-of-life (EoL) electronic devices still ending up in the landfills or processed through rudimentary means. Industrial confidentiality regarding device composition combined with insufficient reporting requirements has made the task of simply characterizing the problem difficult at a global scale. To address some of these key issues, this paper presents a critical overview of existing statistics and estimations for e-waste in an Australia context, including potential value and environmental risks associated with metals recovery. From our findings, in 2014, on average per person, Australians purchased 35kg of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) while disposed of 25kg of WEEE, and possessed approximately 320kg of EEE. The total amount of WEEE was estimated at 587kt worth about US$ 370million if all major metals are fully recovered. These results are presented over the period 2010-2014, detailed for major EEE product categories and metals, and followed by 2015-2024 forecast. Our future projection, with the base scenario fixing EEE sales at 35kg per capita, predicts stabilization of e-waste generation in Australia at 28-29kg per capita, with the total amount continuing to grow along with the population growth.
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