Recycling our e-waste

Our high turnover of tech gear (phones, TVs, computers, etc) is responsible for a correspondingly high quantity of worryingly toxic waste cascading into our rubbish bins and thence to landfill. I wrote about the issue eighteen months ago when a Southern recycling company laudably took the trouble to visit Townsville but the topic is worth revisiting now, especially since we have just enjoyed Christmas and are consequently about to enjoy (if that’s the right word) disposing of old stuff to make room for our presents. (How long does the transition from favourite gadget to junk take, anyway? Longer than ripping off some wrapping paper?)

e-waste infographicAs it happens, a second e-waste recycler contacted me a couple of months ago to see whether I would post their infographic here but I couldn’t find time before Christmas to do so. Here it is now – just click on it to see a larger version, or right-click (control-click) on it to download one – and here’s what they told me about themselves:

PC RECYCLERS is an e-waste collection and recycling company, helping Australian organisations do their part for the environment. Based in Brisbane, the PC RECYCLERS team offer free collection of e waste to schools, businesses and organisations throughout Queensland and nationwide. For specific e-waste recycling services such as computer recycling, PC RECYCLERS provide free data destruction to Department of Defence 5220.22M standards with disposal reporting. For more information on their services or to organise a free collection in Townsville or the wider NQ area, visit

Now that’s all fine, and I don’t mind giving them a plug for it, but we still have a problem at the household level: they offer, “free collection of e waste to schools, businesses and organisations,” and I don’t think my household qualifies as any of the above. Do we have to get (for instance) NQCC to organise a community collection? Could we suggest that our nearest school does it? In return for a donation, maybe?

There are obviously strong possibilities here for groups with initiative but each of them will only collect from a small percentage of households so we are still only intercepting a small percentage of our e-waste. This is clearly a work in progress – but at least it is now in progress.

More information

The PC RECYCLERS chart lists website references but you can’t just click on them and they are a bit old anyway. These links (all updated Dec 2019) take you to the organisations the chart refers to but not to the same documents:

Solar-powered aircraft

Solar Impulse in flight

Solar-powered aircraft touches down in New York City

An aeroplane powered entirely by the sun has touched down in New York City, completing the final leg of an epic two-month journey across the United States.

A year ago it flew from Spain to Morocco to claim the title of first solar-powered intercontinental plane, but in reality that was a much smaller achievement since the distance was so much shorter. (When you think about it, the shortest possible intercontinental flight is probably ten metres or so from Africa to Asia, or a hop along the bridge between Europe and Asia over the Bosphorus. But hey, it made a good headline.)

More seriously, the Solar Impulse is an excellent demonstration project, like (for instance) the Australian solar car challenge, and it’s great to see its success. Perhaps we should have a solar plane race to push the technology ahead even faster?

More: abc news, UN press release

Geeky fun: metronomes and extreme video

My spies alert me to some fascinating science and tech stuff on the web (thanks, guys!) and it’s time to share again.

1. Metronomes

If you put lots of metronomes on a table and start them at different times, they look for all the world as though they notice each other and gradually agree to line up so that their ticking is synchronised.  Continue reading “Geeky fun: metronomes and extreme video”

E-waste collection in Townsville

We throw out a lot of junk. Some of it peacefully decomposes without any further impact on the environment but some of it is quite toxic. One particular category is both highly toxic and, ironically, full of valuable materials: junked technical gear, or e-waste. That gives us two good reasons to dispose of it as thoughtfully as possible. An excellent article on Gizmodo begins:

The brand new tablet/smartphone/GPU you grabbed last week is the cat’s meow. But what happens to it – or to any of the devices you once treasured- when you don’t want or need them anymore? Where do they go? Is there a reliable, “green” way to dispose of them? And hey, does one extra electronic gadget in a landfill really put the big hurt on the environment?

Let’s start simple by looking at one of today’s most ubiquitous electronic gadgets, the mobile phone or smart phone. … The mobile phone is far from green. Indeed, it houses a lot of stuff you certainly wouldn’t want to sprinkle on your cereal. Stuff like copper, gold, lead, nickel, antimony, zinc, beryllium, tantalum, mercury, arsenic, and coltan (more on coltan in a moment), among others.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff not to like about the way we deal with our old and unloved electronics. We toss way too much of it. We recycle some of it, but even then the machinery behind that recycling is flawed and we’re only beginning to understand the dangers that come from the hazardous materials that lay inside. Changes are afoot, but the evidence of an apathetic past and present, like the e-waste itself, is piling up.

And let’s not forget – not all unused products are immediately given the heave-ho. Consumers tend to stockpile stuff they don’t use any longer. Admit it – how many old game consoles or mobile phones or laptops or TVs or cameras or CD players, Walkmans, record players, spare monitors are sitting around your house right now because you’ll either use them again one day (fat chance), or because you just don’t know what to do about it?

That last paragraph describes my position so well that they must have peered into my cupboard!

Seriously, disposing of old tech stuff without sending it straight to landfill can be difficult, especially if you’re outside the big cities. Last time I tried, I rang and emailed around to try to do the right thing. Our only computer recycler wouldn’t take anything that wasn’t relatively new and commercial-grade; no city council department could help; local waste recyclers didn’t take e-waste; and Brisbane e-waste recyclers didn’t have any way to get my junk from here to there.

Right now, people in Townsville have a one-off chance to do the right thing with their techno-rubble, since a Brisbane company is coming to us for one day: Buyequip is holding another

Electronic Waste Recyclathon

at 3 – 7 Macrossan St, South Townsville,
between 9.00 and 3.00 on September 7, 2012.

On the day, they will be accepting the following electronic waste:

  • Computers – laptop and desktop
  • Monitors – LCD and CRT
  • Printers and scanners
  • Computer peripherals – power supplies, networking equipment, cables, etc.
  • Telephones and mobile phones (but not televisions or whitegoods)

Buyequip is an award winning End of Life IT Services organisation dedicated to preventing electronic waste entering our landfills. More than 98% of the materials collected on the day will be diverted from the landfill waste stream.
If you are keen to attend, please email Suzie Bowen or call her on 0488 331 662 . They look forward to seeing you on the day!

More information:

The Gizmodo article recommends a Greenpeace study [Edit: updated here in 2017] that ranks the most dominant tech producers in terms of their environmental footprint.


The day came, and I took a couple of boxes of our e-waste down to South Townsville. The operation there was simplicity itself: one container on a vacant block, two people, a clipboard so people could leave their names and contact info (presumably for next time). By the time I arrived, the container was about half full and there were boxes on the grass beside it, waiting to be stacked inside.

old computers in containerold computer gear in container

More netizen science

Encyclopedia of Life

One of my first posts to this blog mentioned Encyclopedia of Life, a major international collaborative effort to document the living world around us. Its list of sponsors and supporters starts at the highest possible levels (Smithsonian Institution)  and goes all the way down to amateurs like myself, contributing by uploading photographs of my local wildlife.

Dragonfly perched on twig
Local wildlife: Australasian Slimwing, Lathrecista asiatica festa

There is only one way for an ordinary person to contribute images, i.e. the EOL Flickr group at The rules for the group basically say that images need a creative commons license allowing third parties to use them free of copyright and a ‘machine tag’ which will enable automated harvesting of images from the group to EOL itself.

Flickr membership needn’t cost you anything. A free account allows you to upload 300MB worth of photos per month and if you resize them to roughly screen resolution (say 1000 x 750 px) they will be under 1MB each, allowing you hundreds of uploaded images per month if you have that much free time.

It takes a bit of time and fiddly work to set up a Flickr account, choose photos and tag them, but anyone can make a useful contribution to a worthwhile project. And any Australian photos will be picked up automatically from EOL by the Atlas of Living Australia, a similar project run by CSIRO and most of our state museums.

Climate science

A question that popped up on RealClimate recently was, “In what ways could an amateur scientist contribute to the study of climate, and assist the professionals?”

The question continued, “I don’t mean advocacy, but assist in actual research. As an example in a different field of study, amateur astronomers are playing key roles by looking for supernovae and then alerting professionals when one is first found so that the far more powerful telescopes can be directed towards the exploding star to collect data …  Just like there are certain tasks that professional astronomers ‘downsource’, so to speak, to amateurs, I am curious if there are certain tasks that professional climatologists are looking to downsource.”

A good question, and it promptly got a good answer from Gavin Schmidt, one of the core members of RealClimate: “Some of the most active ‘citizen science’ projects related to climate are focused on the digitisation of old weather records (here and here), and phenology projects (for instance, here or here).” (The third of these four starts by defining ‘phenology’, in case you wondered.)

The best Australian equivalent to the US phenology projects Gavin mentions is probably Climatewatch, but there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other citizen science projects ranging from divers helping count marine life to students trapping and identifying barley mildew. Search the net for “citizen science projects [your state]” and find one that appeals.