We're Too Emotionally Attached To Our Old Electronics To Throw Them Out
New research has found Aussies are unwilling to throw out their old, unused electronics because of emotional attachments, which is contributing to big problems with our waste management.
Electronic waste (or e-waste) is an enormous and growing problem in Australian waste management, in part because we're unwilling to throw out goods in time for them to be effectively refurbished for the second-hand market.
The knock-on effects of casually tossing out a mobile phone that's been sitting in your drawer for several years are both environmental and financial. Globally, it's estimated the gold, copper and plastic in disposed e-waste is worth approximately €48 billion (AU $77.9 billion).
A new study, conducted by researchers from Monash University, found people tend to hang on to their old electronics because they have emotional attachments to them.
Across three studies with 650 people, attachment and frugality were identified as the main factors leading to people keeping old electronics in their houses.
At least 50 percent of the participants owned a minimum of two computers and 16 percent owned at least four. People have been found to needlessly hold on to old computers for up to six years.
"We actually do form emotional bonds with our cell phones and computers," lead author Dayna Simpson told 10 daily.
"We use them every day, we take them everywhere with us, we store a lot of data on them as well and we get quite familiar with them."
When we do eventually throw them out, they often end up in land waste; e-waste is accumulating up to three times faster than other forms of rubbish, and in Australia is expected to amount to 12 million tonnes by 2020.
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It presents a concerning environmental hazard due to the mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium being released. This in turn can lead to environmental leachate (a solution of heavy metals) leaks or air pollution.
This week, the Victorian Government implemented a ban on disposing of electronics into generic landfill. While there is a National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to encourage people to dispose of electronics properly, South Australia and the ACT are the only other state and territory with a technical ban.
Simpson noted that our "mild hoarding" behaviour when it comes to old electronics appears to be cancelled out if we are given viable options for handing over.
Currently, manufacturers have buyback services available and for electronics younger than two-years-old, it is possible to sell back to the retailer or manufacturer.
However, the Monash study found that people can be more incentivised to take part in these schemes when there are promises the money or product will be used for charitable donations, such as passing laptops on to underprivileged children.
"Manufacturers don't need government support for this, it would be good if the manufacturers could find a way to get consumers to bring products back to them," Simpson said.
The survey also found that consumers would be willing to trade in relatively new laptops (under six-months-old) that weren't being used if they received a 27.5 percent discount on their next computer.
Simpson adds this could also prevent poor behaviour when it comes to disposing of e-waste, including a tendency for Australians to leave electronics next to charity bins or on sidewalks.