Australia has an e-waste problem, and for all the conversations around climate change, energy consumption, plastics and other ESG issues, it’s surprising that more isn’t being talked about.
Currently, only 12% of the country’s computers are recycled, and Australia is the fourth largest generator of electronic waste per capita. This is a significant environmental risk because poorly managed e-waste means heavy metals and hazardous wastes such as lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants can leak into the environment . There is also a risk of data leakage if the device storage is not treated with care.
The impact of e-waste goes beyond environmental damage
For Australian businesses, e-waste is as much an IT lifecycle challenge as it is an environmental challenge. With an increasingly decentralized workforce, IT teams are struggling to keep up with patch maintenance and the provisioning and deployment of new devices in a way that doesn’t disrupt operations.
As a result, these organizations are prone to creating unnecessary e-waste due to poor processes, which can lead to several consequences for a business.
Risk of data leak
Often, asset disposal is not considered part of the business process. This poses a risk of data leakage. For example, in a report released earlier this year, PwC was commissioned to conduct a study on security risks related to e-waste and data breaches. He bought a cell phone and tablet for $50 from a second-hand dealer.
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“They were able to retrieve 65 personally identifiable information from the phone, while the tablet – which still had company stickers – contained a note with credentials to access a database that allowed them to access 20 million sensitive PII records”, according to the report.
“This is a much bigger problem than we think today, than anyone has really paid attention to in recent times,” said Rob Di Pietro, head of cybersecurity and digital trust at PwC. at NCA Newswire.
Hardware cycles are more expensive
E-waste contains valuable materials such as gold, silver, copper and rare earth metals that can be recovered through recycling. These materials are of great value to manufacturers. Most manufacturers have recycling policies that allow you to pay a fair market rate for old equipment and subsidize the cost of new purchases. However, the difficulty of organizing recycling often leads organizations to neglect this opportunity.
Legal and regulatory risk
There are legal and regulatory frameworks regarding the management of e-waste coming to Australia, including an e-management regulatory framework that the government has committed to in 2021. Failure to stay abreast of changing regulations will expose an organization to at legal risk, so businesses may need to allocate resources to develop and implement appropriate e-waste management strategies, staff training and documentation processes.
Consumers expect companies to comply environmental, social and governance standards. While many organizations are working to improve their carbon footprint and reduce their plastic waste, e-waste is an area where a lack of accountability and reporting could reflect poorly on an organization.
SEE: Discover the benefits of implementing ESG standards in your organization.
So how did we get here?
There are several underlying reasons contributing to Australia’s current e-waste management crisis.
Rapid technological advancement
Australia is experiencing a constant influx of new electronic devices as technology rapidly evolves. Most Australians replace laptops every two to four years and telephones every three years. Older electronic products are quickly becoming obsolete in this country, leading to increased production of e-waste.
High consumption rates
Australians have one of the highest per capita rates of electronic device ownership in the world. By 2025, statistics suggest that there will be up to 33.8 internet-connected devices per household. Such high consumption of electronic devices contributes to a significant volume of e-waste.
Improper disposal and recycling
A sad and simple reality is that many Australians are unaware of the proper methods for disposing of electronic devices. Research conducted in 2020 found that there was a “serious lack» raising awareness about e-waste collection points and their safe disposal. Although public awareness of plastics and other sustainability measures has been greatly increased, e-waste remains a blind spot, with many simply throwing old devices in the trash.
Limited recycling infrastructure
Even when Australians are aware of e-waste, it can be difficult to dispose of it responsibly. Although Australia has made efforts to establish e-waste recycling programs, such as the National Television and Recycling Programthe convenience of these systems is insufficient.
Compared to other forms of waste, where Australians are used to bins being collected at the door every week, e-waste recycling efforts seem more cumbersome. Additionally, recycling facilities are not widely accessible, especially in rural areas. This leads to a lack of convenient options for individuals to properly dispose of their electronic devices.
What can be done?
However, managing e-waste on a large scale can be a logistical challenge for organizations. The best solution would be for IT teams to work with their suppliers and partners to establish a cyclical supply chain, in which older equipment is automatically returned to the supplier and added to their e-waste management programs using the same logistics as that which provides new technologies. With the right partners and suppliers who can offer reliable data erasure services, the IT team will be able to meet the challenges of e-waste management in Australia.
Largely because of these risk factors, the costs of poor e-waste management are expected to accelerate rapidly in the coming months. Organizations that are not already considering modernizing their e-waste management strategy will need to do so quickly to avoid being impacted by changing market dynamics and expectations.