The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has launched what it calls the world's first e-waste microfactory in an effort to reduce Australia's electronic waste. Following research at the university's Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre), the microfactory has been launched as the first in a series under development at UNSW that can turn consumer waste such as discarded smartphones and laptops into reusable materials. According to UNSW, the microfactory has the potential to reduce Australia's vast amounts of e-waste causing environmental harm and offers an alternative to practices such as burning or burying e-waste. "Our e-waste microfactory and another under development for other consumer waste types offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities to our cities but importantly to our rural and regional areas, too," said UNSW professor Veena Sahajwalla. "These microfactories can transform the manufacturing landscape, especially in remote locations where typically the logistics of having waste transported or processed are prohibitively expensive," she added.
All those old TV screens, smartphones and computer monitors have to go somewhere. In east and south east Asia, discarded electronics are piling up at an alarming rate. A new report has found that millions of tonnes of e-waste was created over five years in the region with the potential to cause severe health problems. Looking at 12 countries -- Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand and Vietnam -- the United Nations University study found the amount of e-waste being thrown out in the region between 2010 and 2015 increased by an average of 63 percent. China, for example, more than doubled its e-waste to 6.7 million tonnes in five years, but Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan were the highest per-capita producers of e-waste.
A shocking 52.7 million tons (53.6 million metric tonnes) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019 – less than a fifth of which was recycled, according to UN report. Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, consists of discarded phones, printers, TVs, electric toothbrushes and many other electronic goods no longer in use. Humanity's combined heap of electronic trash for 2019 – which was up 9 million tons since 2014 – also averaged 7.3 kg (16 pounds) for every man, woman and child on Earth. The UK averaged the second-biggest e-waste pile person in the world, at 52.6 pounds (23.9 kg), behind Norway, which averaged 57.3 pounds (26 kg). Global e-waste is up 21 per cent in just five years, from 43.6 million tons in 2014 to 52.7 million tons last year.
A damning report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) claims the UK falls well behind other countries in managing electronic waste. Committee members also suggested major companies such as Amazon and Apple discourage recycling and repairs through some of the practices they employ. The UK generates 23.9kg of e-waste per person each year. Much of that waste is incinerated or goes to landfill, while around 40 percent is sent to other countries, often illegally. "In the countries that receive our electronic waste, it is often dumped, with toxic chemicals leaching into the environment and harming people," the EAC wrote.
The tech boom is spreading worldwide and it comes with a cost. Between 2010 and 2015, e-waste generated in East and South-East Asia rose 63 per cent, according to a report from the United Nations University. E-waste, short for electronic waste, refers to discarded electrical or electronic devices. When not recycled or disposed of properly, these are often burned or washed in acid to extract the copper and other metals inside. This can pollute water and air, and lead to cancers and infertility in workers exposed to the fumes.