E-waste Recycling: Your Questions Answered

What is electronic waste?

Electronic waste, or 'e-waste' can include all electronic and electronic products that are no longer wanted or useful. Computers and computer equipment including printers, scanners, keyboards, mice and monitors as well as televisions are the most common form of e-waste. Other e-waste can include DVD and CD players, stereo and sound systems, photocopiers, faxes, digital cameras, game consoles and mobile phones.  

Other types of e-waste include:

Large household appliances
Eg electric radiators, air conditioners, electric fans

Small household appliances
Eg vacuum cleaners, carpet sweepers, irons, electric knives, electric shavers

IT and telecommunications equipment
Eg fax machines, copying equipment, telephones

Consumer equipment
Eg radios, video cameras, DVD/VCR/CD players and recorders, speakers

Electrical and electronic tools
Eg sewing machines, drills, saws, welding tools, electric mowers and tools for other gardening activities

Toys, leisure and sports equipment
Eg electric trains or car racing sets, hand held video game consoles, sports equipment with electric or electronic components

Automatic dispensers
EG automatic dispensers for drinks or food

Where can e-waste be taken by householders for recycling?

Televisions and computers
Televisions and computers can be taken to recycling locations in metropolitan and regional South Australia: http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/e-waste/ongoing-e-waste-recycling-options-in-south-australia
E-waste drop-off special events are occasionally held under the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. Typically these are arranged with Council waste management staff and are advertised locally.

Whitegoods and other e-waste
Whitegoods will usually be accepted by scrap metal recyclers – in metropolitan areas, free collection may be available.
Sites accepting TVs and computers for recycling may also accept other electronic and electrical waste for recycling but depending on the item there is a fee, so always call ahead and check first.
Most other e-waste will also be accepted separately by commercial recyclers or local transfer stations. The cost of the recycling for transfer stations or commercial recyclers depends on the amount of recyclable material in the item. For example materials like copper and steel have a higher value than glass or plastic.

Lighting
Householders can drop off their household lights including halogen, incandescent and fluorescent globes for free at any Banner, Mitre 10 and True Value  hardware stores in metropolitan and regional South Australia through the Backlight program. Stores are listed at zerowaste.sa.gov.au/e-waste/recycle-used-light-globes-for-free.
Fluorescent tubes can also be taken to DeLights at 37 Anzac Highway, Ashford or IKEA at 397 Sir Donald Bradman Drive near the Adelaide Airport.

Please don't:

  • Please don't dump your unwanted items in the street or local community areas such as parks, reserves and roadsides. E- waste contains hazardous substances. Cracked and broken equipment creates environmental and safety hazards when illegally dumped. Dumping e-waste is never a free option for anybody as the costs to local and state government to collect and clean up e-waste are passed onto the local community.
  • Please don't place your unwanted television, computer or computer products on your kerb unless you have booked a collection with your council if they offer  a pick-up service. If you place your electronic items on the kerb without booking a collection service through your local council, this is considered illegal dumping, and you may be fined.
  • Please don't attempt to recover any precious metals or recoverable materials from your unwanted equipment. Cracked and physically broken televisions or computer screens can expose you, council staff and recyclers to hazardous materials including heavy metals such as lead, phosphorus, mercury and cadmium as well as broken glass containing lead particles. You should ensure your television or computer is returned for recycling in one piece and should not attempt to dismantle and salvage any components.

Can householders put any e-waste in their recycling or other household bins?
No. These items can’t be recycled through the same processes used for household kerbside bin collection systems. Many of these items contain hazardous substances such as mercury, lead, cadmium or brominated flame retardants which can pose hazards when they are crushed in collection trucks.
The contents of your yellow recycling bin are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Material Recovery facilities are not equipped to recover electronic or electrical items. Instead take them to a designated e-waste recycling drop off point or direct to an e-waste recycler.
Putting these wastes in a bin for collection or transport for disposal at a landfill depot can be an offence and attract expiation fines of $300; fines of up to $30,000 can apply for intentional or reckless breaches.

Can televisions, computers and other e-waste still be put out for hard rubbish collection?

Each council has a different policy and strategy for managing residential e-waste. Check your council’s website or waste collection calendar for details.
 In addition to the many free drop off points for televisions and computers, some councils allow residents to take e-waste to designated places for free or offer a specific e-waste collection service.
If your council does accept e-waste through hard waste collections, they need to ensure that the e‑waste is sent to a resource recovery centre for recycling and does not go to direct to landfill.   

Can my unwanted electronic and electrical items be reused by someone else?

If your items are still in good working order consider passing these onto a friend or family member who may be able to find a use for the item.
Some charitable organisations test, tag and repair and resell pre loved electronic items.
Op shops and charities generally do not accept any electrical or electronic appliances and are unfortunately often a dumping ground for all household rubbish. It is best to check with your local charity or use the Recycle Right search engine: zerowaste.sa.gov.au/at-home

Can someone collect my old TV or computer from my house as I am unable to transport it to one of the free drop off points myself?
If you are unable to transport your unwanted items to one of the free drop off points, consider asking a friend, neighbour or relative to assist you. The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme does not currently allow for direct pick up from householders. Some councils do provide special pick up services for residents with special needs, so check with your council.

Why are TVs, computers and computer products accepted for free recycling, yet the other small appliances can attract a fee?

Recycling of e-waste often requires the use of specialised plant and equipment and in some cases a manual dismantling process that results in operational and labour costs.  Whilst all electronic items contain valuable materials, the current costs for dismantling are often higher than the returns from some of the recovered resources.
The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme sites provide householders and small business with free recycling for televisions and computers, because the television and computer industry is now legislated to pay for the recycling. This is known as Product Stewardship. For more information about the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme see environment.gov.au/settlements/waste/ewaste/index.html 
As there are currently no national product stewardship schemes in place for other electronic waste, other than TVs and computers, there still may be a cost to recycle these items. 

Why is e-waste banned from direct disposal to landfill?

E-waste is growing three times faster than any other type of waste in Australia. Televisions, computers and other electronic items contain valuable resources such as copper, aluminum, nickel and zinc. They also contain many hazardous materials including lead, mercury, phosphorous, chromium and cadmium. Sending these products to landfill means the resources they contain are lost and there is potential that the hazardous materials may be released into the environment.  In recognition of this, direct disposal of e-waste to landfill has been progressively banned by the South Australian government as per the schedule below:


Waste

Area

Ban commencement date

Whitegoods

Metropolitan Adelaide

1 September 2010

All of State

1 September 2011

Televisions and
Computers

Metropolitan Adelaide

1 September 2012

All of State

1 September 2013

Fluorescent Lighting

Metropolitan Adelaide

1 September 2012

All of State

1 September 2013

Other electrical or electronic equipment

Metropolitan Adelaide

1 September 2013

All of State

1 September 2013

Is South Australia the first state to implement a ban on the direct disposal of e-waste to landfill?

South Australia is the first state to implement a ban on the direct disposal of e-waste to landfill. The Australian Capital Territory was the first jurisdiction to implement landfill bans for computers in 2005 and televisions in 2010.  Some individual landfills and councils in South Australia have also banned all e-waste from landfill, including the City of Mt Gambier in 2008.

Are the fines for disobeying the landfill bans just another way the government is trying to get more money out of ratepayers?

The landfill bans are primarily about encouraging resource recovery, recycling and reuse of materials.
The valuable materials (e.g copper, zinc, aluminum and other ferrous and non ferrous metals) contained within most electronic items should not be ending up in our landfills, never to be recovered again necessitating increasing mining of virgin materials for our consumer goods. Any costs to consumers associated with recycling of these items are due to the handling and processing costs associated with recovery.
The South Australian government is committed to reducing waste to landfill by 25% by 2030 to ensure that finite resources are not wasted. Landfill bans are one of many ways to reduce waste to landfill.

What materials can be recycled in e-waste?

About 90% of what's used to make televisions and computers can be recycled, yet more than 1.5 million are dumped in Australian landfills each year. They contain re-usable materials including ferrous (iron-based) and non-ferrous metals, glass and various types of plastic.
For more information about what can be recycled from e-waste click here.

What happens to the e-waste? How is it recycled?

Depending upon the manner by which it is collected, most e-waste products collected for recycling are manually dismantled or mechanically shredded. Materials are sorted into various product streams: metals, plastics, glass, cables, packaging, etc. There is very little which is not recycled.
Recycled plastics are used in the manufacture of things like:

  • Outdoor furniture
  • Plastic plant pots
  • Dashboards for cars

Metals are remanufactured into the same metals.
Leaded glass from Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) glass (from televisions) is used in the manufacture of new CRT glass and used in lead production.

Does the e-waste in Australia get exported overseas? I’ve seen those documentaries on TV where e-waste goes to China and Africa for reprocessing often by children in very unsafe conditions

Electronic waste is considered as hazardous waste. Australia is party to a number of international treaties governing wastes and hazardous materials and chemicals. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous wastes and their Disposal regulates the movement of hazardous wastes across international boundaries, and requires that such waste be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The Australian Government administers the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 which implements Australia's obligations under the Basel Convention. 

Pre-processed components of recycled e- waste, such as crushed glass and plastics, can be shipped overseas for further reprocessing, however 'whole' televisions and computers are not to be sent overseas.

Further information for householders:
Recycle Right Hotline 1300 137 118
Further information about landfill bans: epa.sa.gov.au/environmental_info/waste/legislation/waste_to_resources_policy