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Recycle technical waste

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Replicating nature's nutrient cycle by creating closed loops for the recycling and reuse of those man-made (technical) elements of our consumption delivers efficiency, reduces cost and resource use and protects the environment.

We have concentrated, extracted and combined raw natural elements into new and unique elements such as plastics, aluminium, mercury and acids. Recently we have realised that to use these resources efficiently and avoid them spoiling the environment, we need to create closed loops that allow us to move these technical materials from one use to another in the same way nature cycles nutrients, water, or energy throughout its ecosystems. In this manner we need to see one person's technical waste as the feedstock for another's technical process and product.

Recycling plastics, paper, metal, and glass are all steps in this direction. The end point is that all man-made products and materials are able to be recycled and reused.

How to do it now!

Purchase recycled products. To complete the recycling loop we need to purchase recycled products (see our Purchase Recycled Products action).

Recycle all that you can. Most councils (check with your local council for the exact products recycled) offer kerbside recycle bins in which to place the following:

  • cardboard, milk and juice cartons.
  • cardboard boxes, newspapers and magazines.
  • glass bottles and jars.
  • aluminium cans, foil trays and steel cans.
  • plastic milk, juice, soft drink and detergent bottles.
  • telephone books, work and school papers, letters, envelopes and advertising material.

Use specialist recyclers of technical waste where available. Most states have directories of specialist recyclers that will take everything from your old paint and oil to your printer cartridges.

Recycle dead compact fluorescent globes. The new efficient lightglobes are great, however they contain small amounts of mercury and need to be disposed of in a way that prevents this mercury entering nature, our soil and food.

The Australian Government in partnership with the lighting industry is developing FluoroCycle, a scheme aimed to increase recycling rates for mercury-containing globes.

Visit the Department of the Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities web page for more information on the Fluoro-cycle and recycling of light globes.

In addition, fluorescent globe processing is carried out in Australia through recycling companies such as Chemsal and CMA Ecocycle.

Recycle your e-waste. Electronic waste also known as “e-waste” , contains toxic and hazardous substances, which when confined to landfill, can leach into the ground water and cause contamination. E-waste is generally defined as any item with a battery or electrical cord (computers, printers, monitors, mobile phones etc.). The proliferation of information technology has led to an increasing need to recycle used or obsolete computing equipment.

E-waste can be recycled, however, before deciding to send your old computer to a recycler, consider donating it to a community group, local charity, school or family member. If you can't usefully pass it on, these organisations will be able to help:

  • Recycling Near You (National) - Planet Ark list of recycling locations for e-waste
  • ewaste (National) - home or office pick up of your unwanted computers.
  • Computerbank (Melbourne) - offers cheap refurbished computers to concession card holders.
  • Green Collect (Melbourne) – picks up a wide range of items from offices and diverts them from landfill so they can be reused, remade or recycled.

Recycle your mobile phones. For every mobile phone in use, there are two more sitting unused in a draw somewhere! Mobile phones contain nickel, cobalt, cadmium, gold, silver and plastics which can be recycled and re-used. Most mobile phone retailers have recycling boxes. Alternatively, call Mobile Muster for a full list of drop-off locations.

Television and computer recycling

Every year Australians purchase millions of televisions and related components to replace equipment superseded by faster and more powerful technologies. In 2007/08 an estimated 16.8 million televisions and computers reached the end of their useful life in Australia. In 2027/28, this figure is predicted to reach 44 million.

Why recycle televisions?

Televisions containing cathode ray tubes are one of the leading causes of lead contamination in municipal waste streams. These tubes can contain up to 4 kg of lead and other toxic materials such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Lead is a cumulative poison that can contaminate groundwater and have harmful effects on human and animal health. By recycling televisions, waste is diverted from landfill and resources such as metals, precious metals, plastics and glass are recovered.

What happens when televisions are recycled?

Some television components may still be useable, enabling certain parts to be directed into a reuse stream. To be recycled, televisions must be broken down into their many different components.

Cathode ray tube (CRT) glass contains a high concentration of lead. This means it can't go back into the normal glass recovery process like glass bottles. CRT glass is typically crushed and cleaned. One of the major reuses for CRT glass is in manufacturing new television and computer monitors.

Circuit boards are shredded down to a fine powder and separated into plastics and precious metals. This material can be reformed into a range of products.

Plastic casings are shredded and tested for their composition. Once identified, the plastics can be melted and extruded for use in new products.

Scrap metals are typically melted down to form new metal-based components.

More information

Australia will soon have a national recycling scheme for computers. Find out more here.

Recycling printer cartridges

Up to 85 per cent of printer cartridges sold in Australia end up as landfill, which is a problem as they are hazardous to both people and the environment.

However printer cartridges as well as faxes, photocopiers and printers can be recycled. Fortunately a successful program between manufacturers and Plant Ark, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark is at hand. Check their website for drop-off locations.

Some office suppliers will also take used printer cartridges for recycling.

Recycle batteries?

Recycling batteries isn’t always easy but the number of local collection points is increasing.

Many councils offer regular collections and/or provide drop-off locations for hazardous waste.

The only national collection program for batteries is run by Cleanaway. They collect primary and secondary batteries in flat-packed boxes that can be sent back for recycling.

There are a number of other local programs for recycling batteries. Search Recycling Near You to find collection points in your local area.

Related resources

Why is this action important?

In order to reduce the strain our ongoing consumption is putting on the environment, we need to use less and use it many times (ideally, perpetually). Creating closed loops by recycling all that we can moves us in this direction.