How E-Waste is Contributing to the Global Plastics Problem

Comments are off
3
Darren Gore
How E-Waste is Contributing to the Global Plastics Problem

I was travelling through Indonesia over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays of 2018, looking to celebrate the year that we had recently finished.

My friends and I had booked five days in the Gili Islands, about a 90 minute boat ride from the shores of Bali. Anyone who has ever been to Bali or Asia in general will know that generally most places in Asia are poor, at best, in terms of waste management. Personally I have spent a good 10 years of my life visiting destinations within Asia, so I had become numb to the rubbish and plastics littered everywhere. At the time, I saw is as a problem isolated to Asia, of course this is where I was completely wrong.

 

Seeing the Plastics Problem Myself

The first day we got to Gili, my friends and I took a walk down the beach with plans for a quick dip in the ocean. We were overwhelmed by the amount of trash that was not only the beach but everywhere in the ocean. We were amazed at what we were finding in the water, everything from toothpaste tubes to plastic bottles, tyres and home appliances.

That day was a wake-up call for me, personally. The thought that entered my head was “I have a choice. I can continue to remain ignorant and say that the problem is bigger than me and therefore there is nothing I can do, or I start with changing myself, and be part of the solution and not the problem.”

 

The Global Plastics Problem

Since that time, I have endeavoured to educate myself as much as possible about the problem, looking for solutions and how to decrease my own waste footprint on the planet. Since its creation in 1907, a date marked by the creation of a new global plastics industry, we have been using plastics for everything. We only realised in the 1950s that this new magical material that had shaped life as we know it today was now going to be one of the biggest threats to our planet’s existence.

Since 2010:

  • Global primary production of plastic was 270 million tonnes;
  • Global plastic waste was 275 million tonnes (and can exceed annual primary production through wastage of plastic from prior years);
  • Plastic waste most at risk of entering the oceans is generated in coastal populations (within 50 kilometres of the coastline); in 2010 coastal plastic waste amounted to 99.5 million tonnes;
  • Only plastic waste which is improperly managed is at significant risk of leakage to the environment; in 2010 this amounted to 31.9 million tonnes;
  • Of this, 8 million tonnes – 3% of global annual plastics waste – entered the ocean (through multiple outlets, including rivers);
  • An estimated 10,000s to 100,000s tonnes of plastics are in the ocean surface waters (several orders of magnitude lower than ocean plastic inputs).

Source: https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

 

The Global E-Waste Problem

This got me thinking, working in the tech industry myself, what other issues outside of plastic are we contributing to, and how is this affecting our planet? This brought me to E-Waste.

E-Waste, or Electronic Waste, is created when an electronic product is discarded after the end of its useful life. The rapid expansion of technology means that a very large amount of E-Waste is created every minute.

The facts on E-Waste are just as scary as plastics,

  • Each year between 20–50 million tonnes of E-Waste are generated worldwide
  • An estimated 700,000 tonnes of which are generated in Australia.

Within Australia, 500,000 computers were recycled in the year 2006. While this may seem like a great figure at first, compare it to the 1.6 million computers that were simply thrown away, the 1.8 million in storage and the 5.3 million simply sitting unused on shelves and gathering dust. Add to this the estimated 2.4 million new computers Australians are estimated to buy each year and you get just a slight insight into the E-Waste pandemic.

 

Changes I Made

My personal journey since the start of 2018 has been an evolving one, it is incredibly difficult to just stop using plastic, or stop using electronics, so I decided to start changing my thinking. I adopted a mindset of trying to buy less plastic, using products that are not packaged or that have recyclable materials.

This started with my weekly shopping trolley. I was surprised that within only a couple of months I had managed to remove nearly 95% of plastics I used from my weekly purchases and what was left I was able to recycle through soft plastic recycling programs at Woolworths & Coles (www.Redcycle.net.au).

It had become my mission to throw less and less away that would go in to landfill. The KPI (Key Performance Indicator) I set for myself was the number of bags of trash discarded each fortnight, and I am proud to say that I am finally down to about one small bag per fortnight.

Since that time, I see the world through a lens on how we consume and the waste we generate. It actually pains me to see people throw away plastic without considering, or knowing, the impact that their actions have just had.

 

 

Corporate Responsibility and E-Waste

Now that I felt empowered that I had made active change in my own life, I wanted to help influence others, even if it’s just one person at a time. As Chief Financial Officer at Calibre One, a lot of my responsibility is based around corporate strategy, risk and financial management, reporting to management and our board etc.

As a company with four offices across the country, a team of 60 people, 4,000 clients, and a technology company that supplied thousands of laptops, computers, mobile phones, tablets and so on, it was clear that my next goal was to look at how to influence the amazing group of people that I work with to put practises in place that could begin to create a more sustainable work environment.

In late 2018 we created a prototype waste management room. Here, we collect all E-Waste materials from our clients’ old technology that we may be replacing or decommissioning. We have collection bins for all toners/cartridges, collection bins for all mobile phones and recycling bins for all soft plastics and cardboards that are  generated from packaging of all new products.

Calibre One has set some new KPIs around recycling in its Corporate Strategy for the next two years. The goal and aim is to see how many KGs we can repurpose, keeping it out of landfill and being reused over and over.

Our goal is to collect more than 1 tonne of our clients’ E-Waste this year and to recycle more than 10,000 pieces of soft-plastic.

 

A Long-Term Solution

While recycling is certainly not the ultimate solution, it’s a great start. Today I have shared my story of change. Whilst one person can never hope to solve this problem alone, as one person I hope I have been able to influence you to consider changing some of your own practices to minimise the use of plastic, extend the cycle of technology purchases and whatever you do use and find ways of recycling and reusing.

Together we can all make a difference.

If you want to learn more about our E-Waste Recycling Program, please click here.