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Australia Television Hardware Technology

What Happens to Australia's E-Waste 78

Posted by timothy
from the as-long-as-you-keep-it-down-under dept.
lukehopewell1 writes "Aussies recycle several million tonnes of computers, TVs, mobile phones and other e-waste every year, with the number set to skyrocket over the next decade. ZDNet Australia takes an extended look into what happens to your devices when you're done with them. Take a peek inside the e-waste recycling process and find out what happens to your tech when it goes off to the wreckers."
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What Happens to Australia's E-Waste

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  • The answer is: Fence Posts.
    • Better than letting African children rip out the wires, let them burn the plastic off on open fields while they get a good taste of the chemicals, and resell the copper for a few cents. But I guess Africa is further away from Australia than Europe...

  • It's not "e-waste" - it's regular old waste (aka garbage), just like old cars, dead light bulbs, and anything else that's discarded in the physical world.

    As annoying as putting an "e" in front of everything already is, at least there's usually some degree of logic to it - it's all about the difference between a physical item or an electronically transmitted item. If your internet service provider sends you a paper bill though the postal service, it's not an "e-bill" just because it's tangentially related to

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's special in that computers depreciate to 0 dollars in 2 years.

      So we are often faced with the choice of upgrade or wait.

      Hence it is nice to know what the consequences of upgrades are.

      • by m50d (797211)
        Plenty of other things (e.g. cars) are pretty similar in that regard though.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Keep up-to-date grandpa. I think today's hip term is 'virtual'. So in this instance your email trash should be called 'virtual waste'...I like how that works on more than one level too

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Keep up-to-date grandpa. I think today's hip term is 'virtual'. So in this instance your email trash should be called 'virtual waste'...I like how that works on more than one level too

        Call it what you want - just stay off my lawn!

      • by Joebert (946227)
        Well hell, if it's "virtual waste" then it doesn't really exist. Problem virtually solved !
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Aussies recycle several million gigabytes of emails, images, configuration files, and other e-waste every year, with the number set to skyrocket over the next decade. ZDNet Australia takes an extended look into what happens to your bits when you're done with them. Take a peek inside the e-waste recycling process and find out what happens to your data when it gets unlinked.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:36AM (#33633110)

      It's not "e-waste" - it's regular old waste (aka garbage), just like old cars, dead light bulbs, and anything else that's discarded in the physical world.

      I have mod points but I hope to remedy your ignorance instead.
      If you ever got to your local landfill, you'll find they have a section just for electronic equipment, because it gets handled differently than "regular old waste (aka garbage)"

      Unlike "regular old waste" e-waste has lots of heavy metals and various organic compounds like PCBs & PCDs (collectively mutagens/terogens/carcinogens). Instead of being disposed of properly, these electronic items get shipped to Asia or Africa where they contaminate the water &/or pollute the air.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You have mod-points and want to "remedy his ignorance", but you're not prepared to have your comment associated with your account. Nice. His point, which you neatly ignored, troll, is that the prefix "e", which seems to be attached to anything even remotely related to computers, is completely inappropriate when referring to this waste.

        Should all the scrapped iMacs, iPods, iPhones, Macbook Pros etc. be referred to as iWaste? No. It's as retarded as saying "e-bullying" or "e-stalking". Differentiating betw
      • by vlm (69642)

        I have mod points but I hope to remedy your ignorance instead.

        Your friendly neighborhood chemist says "ditto"

        Unlike "regular old waste" e-waste has ... PCBs ...

        You should read the wikipedia article.

        They haven't been used in electronic products in the USA since 79 and since early 80s in Europe. Usually the Europeans are ahead of the USA in environmental stuff, but not that time.

        Chronologically, the only way your e-cycled e-waste e-old e-computer at the e-dump will contain PCBs is if its a museum piece. Not anything that can run Winders, linux, or any mac that was ever made.

        The other problem, is PCBs are a great "high

        • by Xacid (560407)

          I actually assumed PCB here meant Printed Circuit Boards.

          • by vlm (69642)

            I actually assumed PCB here meant Printed Circuit Boards.

            Polychlorinated biphenyls

            A really fantastically good insulating oil, well, other than the cancer. I'm pretty sure that to this day no replacement has been invented that is as good and cheap as PCBs.

            Printed Circuit Boards are mostly harmless in the post-lead solder era. A bit of plastic, glass, and copper, sounds like my bathroom or kitchen. Even during the lead solder era they were not so bad, most (non-slashdotter) homes probably had more lead solder on their copper pipes than their home electronics. A

            • by Xacid (560407)

              Kind of sucks how all of the materials we find that are damned good at what they do are incredibly harmful to us. Tale Asbestos, for example.

              Thanks for the info. 3am reading is no good for anyone sometimes.

      • True.

        Moreover, "e-waste" are specific because even though e.g. mobiles & laptops all kinda look the same, they really are very different from one model to another and all require different processing.
        The quick & dirty solution is, as you pointed out, to send them to Asia/Africa.

        Also, the problem is that life cycles of those products are much shorter than usual.
        A washing machine can last 30 years, but the last IPhone or DSLR generation is already considered to be junk by many.
        If you think the problem

        • It is illegal in .au to export ewaste to third world countries. I deal a lot with the local govenment computer recycling scheme, where I get a lot of system for my poor schools.
          They are banned from exporting any ewaste.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Unlike "regular old waste" e-waste has lots of heavy metals and various organic compounds like PCBs & PCDs (collectively mutagens/terogens/carcinogens). Instead of being disposed of properly, these electronic items get shipped to Asia or Africa where they contaminate the water &/or pollute the air.

        Huh. In my day we just called it hazardous waste - we weren't smart enough to have these high tech names for it.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Huh. In my day we just called it hazardous waste - we weren't smart enough to have these high tech names for it.

          There are different kinds of hazardous waste. e-Waste, or Electronics Waste (not "electronic" waste) is differently hazardous from organophosphates. It's not hazardous sitting around in clean conditions, but it will leach heavy metals (and other nasties) if buried in a landfill. Toxic chemicals, the kind of thing we typically think of as hazardous waste, is hazardous just sitting there. If you stick your hand into a stack of computers in a shipping container you get bruised. If you stick your hand into a va

      • by Dan541 (1032000)

        Does this mean we are going to get iWaste as-well?

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yes. Its the same as e-Waste but you won't be able to remove the batteries.

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      I agree, I am sick of these e-morons attaching the letter e to anything electronic. Next we will have e-torches, e-doorbells, e-lights and e-bananas.

    • That is exactly what I thought when I first read the title. "Doesn't it just go away when I empty the trash folder? Do computers in Australia have some sort of design flaw that causes deleted computer files to continue to clutter up the hard drive?" Then I realized that they were talking about tech equipment like computers, cell phones, copy machines, etc.
      It would be nice if headline writers would use terms with consistency.
  • Article Format (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:41AM (#33632976)
    Has that website always been so terrible with the way it formats an article? That looks like the sort of format that a retarded project manager signs off because it "looks flash!" even though it is as useful as an encyclopedia for toe-jam.
  • by acidradio (659704) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:45AM (#33632992)

    I'm sure there are some legitimate e-waste recyclers in the developed world but they are far and few between. Most of this stuff is pawned off on places like Nigeria, India and China where those people are forced to contend with toxic metals, burning plastic, strong acids and harmful processes performed in unregulated back-alley operations.

    If we don't recycle it responsibly it just gets disposed of in some toxic manner in another country. I think it's about time we attach a disposal fee or tax on all these things at the time of purchase. The product cycle on most electronics is rather short. It WILL be disposed of sometime and that interval gets to be less and less. "Out of sight, out of mind" doesn't get rid of the pollution, it just sends it to some other country. That other country is still on this earth though.

    • by JDmetro (1745882)
      We already have that in Canada. Buy a TV and that $25 (other items cost +/-). Now if you keep that crappy thermal paper receipt (receipt probably won't last for the warranty period) for the life of that TV when you take it to the dump doesn't cost anything. Lose the receipt and you have to pay another $25 to drop it off at the dump. Funny thing is if you bought that TV you already had to pay the compulsory $25 fee so why should you need to show a receipt? Money grab in the name of greenness anyone?
      Yah we
    • by Joce640k (829181) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:41AM (#33633120) Homepage

      What's to stop people just dumping it on the street at night? Who's going to drive it all the way to a special place and pay for the privilege?

      Here we have a truck which comes round on Thursday mornings to collect your old stuff.

      • by 21mhz (443080)

        What's to stop people just dumping it on the street at night? Who's going to drive it all the way to a special place and pay for the privilege?

        Include a redeemable deposit in the price, to be collected at waste reception points. This works with bottles and cans in EU.

        • In South Australia we have caontainer deposit rules for all cans, drink cartons and bottles. When one visits other states, the level of this sort of rubbish in the environment is huge compared to our very tidy state. It seems a good thing to me.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Thanshin (1188877)

        What's to stop people just dumping it on the street at night?

        Snipers. Lots and lots of snipers.

        But the real question is: Why whould people dump e-waste in the street instead on in their regular garbage bag?

        And the answer to that is also Snipers. Or MAGMA! Yes, definitively the answer is MAGMA!

    • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:01AM (#33633188) Homepage

      I love how you frame this - they are victims, helpless in their fate, and we are the evil people doing them harm. "Pawned off on"...LOL. Scrap is a big business in nations like China, and waste is bought by the ton and shipped in. After the bill of lading is received by the buyer, there is absolutely nothing any Westerner can do to affect what happens next. I realize it makes good press to read the service tag off a junked Dell and say it came from Mamie Jenkins of Flyover Territory, USA, and it's therefore her fault that workers are being exposed to PCBs. Misleading and serving a personal agenda instead of reporting the facts, but that's where the press is these days. How about a little opprobrium for the unethical people who make the decision to recycle electronics in an unsafe manner? Oh no, we can't have that. "Victim" by definition means "no responsibility" so if it was their fault in any way, they would no longer be Holy Victims. Another very disturbing aspect of this framing is that because people aren't Westerners, then they by definition can make no decisions. They're too stupid, only we are the smart people who can take responsibility! Racist to the extreme, but then try creating cognitive dissonance in your typical PC drone...you won't get far.

      It's also extremely Western-centric. Only we make e-waste! Ever pause to think about the fact that developing nations are creating huge amounts of waste themselves? China is the second-largest consumer of PCs in the world. Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap [shanghaiscrap.com] makes a good point:

      When China and other countries make a concerted, well-funded effort to do something about the problem, that, too, demands coverage. Put differently, after nearly a decade of wall-to-wall coverage of everything wrong with China's e-waste problem, how can the foreign media and activist community ignore what it is finally doing right - and doing right on a massive scale?

      Put differently, after nearly a decade of wall-to-wall coverage of everything wrong with China's e-waste problem, how can the foreign media and activist community ignore what it is finally doing right - and doing right on a massive scale? As longtime readers know, I'm no China apologist. This e-scrap program has problems. But it is a massive e-recycling program, nonetheless, and yet it has never - not once in its two month life - been reported by a mainstream (not industry trade) foreign news outlet despite the fact - over the last decade - mainstream foreign media outlets have done thousands of stories about the problem of e-waste. More damning, neither the Basel Action Network, which devotes itself to confronting the "unsustainable dumping of the world's toxic waste and pollution on our global village's poorest residents," nor Greenpeace, which actively solicits donations beide photos of south China's e-scrap recycling zones, has many any effort to mention China's progress on their respective websites (or, for that matter, recent progress on the same issue in Brazil). Why?

      What's the breakthrough new recycling program in China he's talking about? You won't hear about it in the Western media because it is an inconvenient truth. It doesn't Fit The Narrative. And The Narrative is always that we are bad and they are victims.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I love how you frame this - they are victims, helpless in their fate, and we are the evil people doing them harm.

        If it's illegal to set the shit on fire in this country then it should be illegal to send it to another country where you know they're just going to set it on fire. You know, like they do to remove PVC coating from wire, which releases dioxins... a portion of which rides the Jet Stream back to the USA.

        What's the breakthrough new recycling program in China he's talking about? You won't hear about it in the Western media because it is an inconvenient truth.

        If it's like everything else to come out of China lately you won't hear about it because it's bullshit. Scientific papers? Bullshit. Products? Toxic bullshit. Remember that dam they built? Environmental disast

        • by Xacid (560407)

          Wait, did you just say it's China's fault that LA has shitty air quality?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            Wait, did you just say it's China's fault that LA has shitty air quality?

            There are days when there's more Chinese pollution in LA than there is Los Angeleno pollution. Look it up, me laddo. People like to cry about the CARB's supposedly draconian control over emissions in California but you cannot argue with results. But as long as we export pollution (as a nation) then we will still be creating it somewhere.

      • Either you really like reading about e-waste, or you had to really Google to find a source to back your pre-conceived notions. Shanghai Scrap - really???

        Read like a classic set of O'Reilly "Talking points":

        - We aren't to blame
        - Foreigners are stupid
        - Personal responsibility!
        - You're a racist for disagreeing with me
        - [Insert random quote from "expert"]
        - The damn media... after us again
        • No, actually, I've read Shanghai Scrap for a while now. There is a lot of good, firsthand insight. Funny you assumed I pulled it out of my ass. That's what typically happens when people are confronted with cognitive dissonance. The guy has written for the New York Times and is friendly with environmentalists and other activists...is that liberal enough for you? No, anything that disagrees with my preconceived notions fed to me by the media MUST be a fraud of some kind, there is no other conclusion that
    • by rhook (943951) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:10AM (#33633228)

      We already have "disposal" fees on electronics here in California, the money gets put into the general fund and never gets used for "e-waste disposal", just another one of our states scams.

      • by breagerey (758928)
        My understanding is that the fees are placed in an Electronic Waste Recovery and Recycling Account which is then used for things like free electronic recycling drop offs.
        Are you upset with the implementation of this or just upset at the idea of taxes?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rhook (943951)

          The program is a scam and does not pay for recycling of waste, the whole point of it was to setup more government agencies so that state union workers could have more jobs. This is why the money for the program goes the the general fund, to pay state workers. Just one more example of why this state is in the hole thanks to our incompetent legislature. Notice how this program is also considered to be a "high risk" for fraud, I wouldn't expect any less from this state.

          http://www.pacificresearch.org/publicatio [pacificresearch.org]

    • by sco08y (615665)

      Which, in Australia, is known as "New Zealand."

  • Honest? (Score:5, Informative)

    by cappp (1822388) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:46AM (#33633000)
    I wonder how honest that article is considering the manner in which the rest of us [nytimes.com] get rid of our electronic waste

    International agreements and European regulations have made a dent in the export of old electronics to China, but loopholes - and sometimes bribes - allow many to skirt the requirements. And only a sliver of the electronics sold gets returned to manufacturers such as Dell and Hewlett Packard for safe recycling. Upward of 90 percent ends up in dumps that observe no environmental standards, where shredders, open fires, acid baths and broilers are used to recover gold, silver, copper and other valuable metals while spewing toxic fumes and runoff into the skies and rivers.

    Accurate figures about the shady and unregulated trade are hard to come by. However, experts agree that it is overwhelmingly a problem of the developing world. They estimate that 70 percent of the 20 million to 50 million tons of electronic waste produced globally each year is dumped in China, with most of the rest going to India and African nations.

    According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is 10 times cheaper to export e-waste than to dispose of it at home.

    There's a pretty awesome photo-essay following the process over on Time [time.com].

    • by wall0159 (881759)

      This is why I try, whenever possible, to buy second-hand computers and phones. Don't be sucked-in: just because you are a nerd doesn't mean you need a quad-core behemoth with 16 GB RAM. A laptop with a P4-M or Centrino CPU is very usable with Ubuntu -- I know, I use one as a multi-track recording studio and general laptop.

      • by Joebert (946227)
        I'm actually on an AMD Athlon 3000+ system with 2G of RAM and Ubuntu as I post this. I have a second drive in this system with Windows Vista on it and that runs Eve Online, Heroes 5, and a handfull of other games just fine.

        I've got a couple of systems even older than this which run Ubuntu server and automate daily website maintenance tasks for me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      It's not just e-waste. The same thing happens with decommissioned ships [time.com] and other dangerous waste. In the U.S., the show "60 Minutes" has done a number of pieces on this, most notably Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste [cbsnews.com] and The Ship-Breakers of Bangladesh [cbsnews.com]. Basically, when it comes to dangerous materials (with the exception of nuclear waste) poor countries inevitably become the dumping grounds for the first world. I would bet that, if you were to really track that e-waste in Australia, I mean REALLY track i
    • Well, if you watch the video on that article, for the recycler they deal with (which they do note that they trust very few), you see actual blue collar white people with safety gear and all doing the disassembly.

      So, for their particular program, it isn't some poor 3rd world child dying of lead poisoning.

  • by YoshiDan (1834392) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:00AM (#33633032)
    ... in my spare bedroom and my shed. I just can't bear to throw all my old computer junk away...
  • I thought that they were going to say what is done with all those bytes that are downloaded and not used. Also what happens to music that you no longer like but you do not safely dispose of by putting to /dev/null?
  • E-Toilet paper and E-Toilets... you insensitive clod, now mind your own business!!!

  • No silicon heaven, where do all the calculators go?

  • I've been spending a lot of time volunteering at an organization here in Portland called FreeGeek that takes most computer related items and either recycles them(volunteers actually disassemble and separate all parts of the comp.) or reuses them(by adding or subtracting parts, making it functional and donating it to other groups or the in Portland through the Hardware Grant program). It's an awesome place to meet other hardware enthusiasts and do some good.

    There's FreeGeek locations in a handful of other ci

  • Not a bad living.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gadders (73754)

    My neighbour runs a company that does WEEE (the European Electrical Recycling directive) recycling for a large area of the UK.

    When the commodities boom was happening just before the Beijing Olympics, they were recycling electrical goods for free as they were making so much money on the reclaimed copper, gold etc.

    Now that the metals prices have dropped, they charge the people that they are recycling for (councils, large corporates etc) so they still make money.

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