UWA strikes gold with old computers

16/12/2020 | 4 mins

From next year, UWA students will benefit from a scheme that will see 80 retired computers donated to students in need each year.

The scheme builds on an existing arrangement in which UWA’s decommissioned computers and e-waste are collected by asset deployment and disposal company Renew IT. After the University’s data is wiped, e-waste is repaired, recycled and resold.

Now, a new agreement with Renew IT will allow 80 of these recycled computers to be donated annually to UWA students facing hardship.

The Student Experience Committee recognised the opportunity to not only reduce waste on campus but to better support students.

Associate Director, Mechanical Engineering and Student Experience Committee representative Adrian Keating said extending the life-cycle of decommissioned goods such as computers can reduce landfill while building the ecosystem within our community at UWA.

“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure! The Student Experience Committee has been actively working on this initiative since the start of Semester One, in collaboration with our colleagues from the Faculty of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Student Life, IT, Campus Management, and the Student Guild.  These opportunities aren’t expected to end with just computers.”

Associate Director of Student Success and Wellbeing Lisa Goldacre said the scheme would help the University support students facing hardship.

“The donated computers will complement this year’s Hardship Support Scheme, which saw laptops and dongles loaned to more than 300 students in need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Access to technology is critical for students, and we will work with the Student Guild to match the donated computers to students in need.”

Chief Digital and Information Officer Warwick Calkin said it was important to dispose of e-waste in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

“In Australia, each person produces 21.7kg of e-waste each year. Globally, we produce 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year, with this figure expected to rise to 110 million tonnes by 2050,” he said.

“The only sustainable way to deal with e-waste is to create a circular economy.”

The good news is that most of our old electronics can be recycled. Around 95 per cent of e-waste can be repurposed – often to make new electronics. In Japan, 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals created for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (delayed until 2021) were made with metals from six million donated mobile phones and 78,000 tonnes of waste electronics.

At UWA, a new recycling and waste strategy is looking at both e-waste and general waste. It aims to reduce waste generation by 10 per cent by 2025 and increase diversion from landfill to 70 per cent by 2025 – up from a current figure of 46 per cent diversion from landfill.

Waste reduction initiatives already under way on campus include follow-me printing, a partnership with OzHarvest to reduce food waste, and research targeting topics such as plastic pollution.

Waste reduction will continue to be a priority with the imperative falling under the broad ‘climate change’ grand challenge, which will be woven into UWA’s teaching, research and co-curricular opportunities over the next three years.

And with around 41 mobile phones yielding one gram of gold, it seems our e-waste might just be worth its weight in gold.

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