Eliminating e-waste: skills for a zero waste future


New gadgets and endless upgrades of electronics mean e-waste has become a big issue – and we mean really big! Did you know making one desktop computer uses the same amount of chemicals, water and fossils as a mid-sized car?

Although most components of technology can be recycled, levels of e-waste – unwanted electrical appliances and technology entering the waste stream – are rising.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the number of televisions and computers reaching the end of their useful life is expected to reach 44 million by 2027–28, and will weigh over 181,000 tonnes.

As e-waste increases, so does the concern that the demand for materials like copper and silver found in electronic devices is likely to exceed supply.

This concern is driving a ‘green manufacturing’ revolution to ensure Australia’s manufacturing industries stay profitable and their activity causes the least harm to the environment.

“Natural resources are being depleted at an unsustainable rate,” says Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW Australia.

“Industries are beginning to recognise the cost-effectiveness of reusing materials.”

SMaRT connects researchers across science, engineering and the built environment with industry to collaborate and develop innovative, sustainable materials and processes.

By developing skills in science and engineering at university, the next generation of students will drive tech advances in green manufacturing.

According to Veena, they will require a holistic understanding of the issues in managing e-waste, and will be “discovering novel green manufacturing solutions”.

Engineers working in partnership with other disciplines and industries, says Veena, will be central to the creation of new knowledge and technologies.

According to Australia’s Future Workforce, a report published in 2015 by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), around five million jobs will likely be automated by 2030, putting nearly 40% of Australian jobs that exist today at risk.

“Australia, and the world, is on the cusp of a new industrial revolution. It’s important that we plan now so our economy doesn’t get left behind,” says Professor Stephen Martin, CEO of CEDA.

Veena believes this new and evolving industrial landscape, based on green manufacturing principles, presents excellent opportunities for students who consider degrees that combine science and engineering.

“Graduates with knowledge and skills across a number of subjects, like engineering, science, business and communications, will be in high demand as society attempts to address big world challenges,” says Veena.

– Carl Williams

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.