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Australia must improve e-waste recycling

 

Australian households and businesses are not recycling their old computers, tablets, televisions and printers because they fear losing data or they think it will cost too much.

Not-for-profit national electronic waste recycler TechCollect says too many households and businesses are holding onto or not properly disposing of redundant electronic devices to the environment's detriment.

If the e-waste were recycled, the recovered materials could be used in new goods, thereby saving resources and cutting down on landfill.

TechCollect chief executive Carmel Dollisson says Australians are good at recycling paper, cardboard and old printing cartridges but could improve on recycling e-waste.

"We all have a shared responsibility for the products that we consume," Ms Dollisson told AAP.

"You wouldn't finish with your car and leave it on the street."

TechCollect's recent survey of 1,000 respondents in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth shows that 43 per cent are keeping old electronic devices in case they need them again.

One in five respondents admit to being device hoarders.

Only 33 per cent have taken e-waste to a designated drop-off site, and one in four have thrown their e-waste into the bin, which is likely to end up as landfill.

Respondents cited the loss of personal data, lack of knowledge, data security and cost as key barriers to recycling.

Improperly disposed-of e-waste can contain mercury and other heavy metals that can poison ground water.

But more than 95 per cent of the materials in e-waste is recoverable, including plastics and circuit boards, which can then be sold to industry to be re-used in the manufacture of new goods.

Ms Dollisson said 100,000 tonnes of new electronic devices are imported into Australia each year.

The federal government's target for recycling old computers and televisions in 2016/17 was 58 per cent of the imported tonnage, and the aim is to recycle 62 per cent in 2017/18.

Although the results aren't in yet, Ms Dollisson believes the target for 2016/17 is close to being met.

She said much of the e-waste consists of old computers from businesses.

Big companies are generally good at recycling old equipment, but small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not.

SMEs may have between 20 and 50 computers and have no idea what to do with them when no longer needed.

Most SMEs don't know that the e-waste can be recycled, are worried that it will cost too much, and that data security may be compromised.

"Those things are the challenges that we need to overcome, and educate the businesses that these products are eminently recyclable," Ms Dollisson said.

She said TechCollect is funded by manufacturers of electronic goods and its recycling service is free.

Most manufacturers have information on their websites on how to re-set devices or wipe data, there are services that can wipe data for you, and there is also software that can assist in wiping data.