Our natural environment has faced many challenges in recent decades but many of them could also be described as pollution threats. When Clean Up Australia started 19 years ago, the pollution of waterways, the ocean and other areas was an overwhelming issue. Now climate change dominates, but the rapid uptake of new technology in Australia and other countries adds another challenge we must face - electronic or e-waste.
Our desire to be up-to-date with the latest products has led to the inevitable problem of waste created by obsolete products. More than 2 million computers were sold in Australia last year, but only 5 per cent will be recycled, 20 per cent will be stored in cupboards or people's garages and 10 per cent will go directly to landfill. The remaining 65 per cent will be reused - but this will also end up in landfill eventually.
E-waste is easily Australia's biggest emerging waste challenge. It is being sent to landfill at three times the rate of other general or municipal waste. That's the equivalent of 21.6 million tonnes of waste. Toxic materials from e-waste, which includes lead and mercury from old computers and batteries, are also accumulating in large amounts in landfill.
This toxic cocktail of chemicals is not only hazardous to humans; it's also disastrous for the environment, especially when it enters into our groundwater systems. E-waste also generates damaging greenhouse gases, adding to the biggest problem currently facing our generation - climate change.
It's encouraging to see many manufacturers rising to the challenge of e-waste, however there is still room for industry to take more of a leading role in solutions. There is scope for industry to promote cost-effective solutions to encourage users to buy good quality products, re-use them when it comes time to upgrade and then recycle the product at the end of its life.
E-waste is one of the top five priority items under extended producer responsibility. This means businesses have two options - either voluntarily take responsibility for the disposal of your product at the end of its life or have legislation imposed on you. Surely the better option is to actively participate in the formulation of any legislation that is bound to be enacted.
Not only does it make sense from an environmental and corporate social responsibility perspective, but also from a business point of view.
The public are looking to industry to take a lead on environmental management and as members of the business community it's important that we take that lead. It's not enough to say it's in the hands of the authorities or consumers; we all need to stand up and take action. I firmly believe there's not a single business that can't make a difference.
It's time we all took responsibility for our environment into our own hands for the sake of our future generations. We're already seeing the effects of climate change and the potential future consequences are profound. I don't want that to be left to our future generations.