Crackdown on e-waste recycling

Following consultation with the IT industry, the federal government has launched a campaign to cut e-waste recycling.

Dealers and exporters of used electronic equipment face tough new guidelines to prevent the unauthorized export of hazardous electronic waste (e-waste).

Environment Minister Ian Campbell said special inspectors would ensure the new laws are enforced.

"I am concerned with the large and increasing volume of used electronic equipment sent to countries where we know there's a considerable cottage industry involved in recycling e-waste," Senator Campbell said.

"These operations, in trying to recover copper and precious metals from the equipment, can cause severe pollution to their waterways and air, as well as exposing workers, including children, to harmful heavy metals and other toxins."

For the past 18 months the government has been working with representatives of the IT industry, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), IT lease companies, recyclers and exporters to develop an acceptable set of clear criteria for defining hazardous e-waste.

Senator Campbell said Australia had been exporting used electronic equipment worth about $20 million a year in increasingly large volumes to China, India and other Asian countries for scrap metal recovery or refurbishment and then resale.

He said the government is concerned these exports breached legal obligations under the Basel Convention, which required signatories to ensure that hazardous wastes were not exported unless they could be managed safely in the importing country.

"If the convention is breached, recipient countries could demand this waste be returned to exporting countries," Senator Campbell said. He said high turnover of electronic equipment and computers is adding to the problem.

"The result is the e-waste pile growing globally by millions of tonnes every year with too many countries allowing their e-waste to be exported to vulnerable countries," he said.

"We're all used to having computers and televisions at home and work and think little of throwing them away if they become old or broken.

"Unfortunately these items can contain some substances that are harmful to health and the environment, so disposal or recycling of them must be done safely."

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