E-Waste Curriculum

These courses facilitate learning to help bring about changes in perspectives and values regarding Australia ‘s e-waste issues, highlight the opportunities available to make a positive difference.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the use of electronic goods such as computers, MP3 players, mobile telephones, entertainment systems and gaming systems. There is now a disturbing trend towards the minimum re-use or recycling of these products with the disposal of e-waste receiving minimal or no evaluation of social or environmental consequences.

The risk to human and environmental health is now becoming a major factor in government decision making, demonstrated by the recent directives of the European Union focused on reducing Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE), and on the Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS). In order to manage this rapidly growing waste stream we need to understand the flows of electronic goods in society – from the perspectives of consumer behaviour (consumption and disposal patterns) to the performance of producers through product stewardship (design, re-use, product recovery, recycling and disposal).

Given these directions in e-waste The Natural Edge Project in partnership with Griffith University and Dell undertook the task of developing two courses, available online, introducing and discussing the challenges of e-waste in our society. These courses were designed to engage with our most influential age bracket, that of youth, through both a high school and an undergraduate focus.

These courses endeavour to facilitate learning to help bring about changes in perspectives and values regarding Australia ‘s e-waste issues, and highlight the opportunities available to make a positive difference.


E-Waste Education Courses

Course 1: Senior High School Level Learning

  • Lecture 1: Techno Trash – An E-Waste Introduction
  • Lecture 2: Digital Delights – Consumers and E-Products
  • Lecture 3: E-Product Jujitsu – Shifting Design Methodologies

Course 2: First Year Undergraduate Level Learning

  • Lecture 1: Responsible Actions – Product Stewardship
  • Lecture 2: Dealing with E-Waste – Real Challenges
  • Lecture 3: A Global Movement – Who is Doing What and Where?

Literature Review: review of current definitions, challenges, regulations, and solutions to e-waste


Course One

Lecture 1: Techno Trash – An E-Waste Introduction

Overview: E-Waste typically consists of electronic products coming to the end of their useful life, such as computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, phones, automobile and manufacturing components. The huge range and complexity of component materials in e-products currently makes it difficult and expensive to dispose of or recycle them safely and at a profit. Many of the materials used are of high value and highly recyclable – such as gold and platinum. However, many others are non-renewable – such as plastic – and are currently either discarded or recycled to form lower grade material. The biggest concern with E-Waste is the presence of toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, toxic flame-retardants, printer cartridge inks and toners that pose significant health risks. It is for this reason that international regulations such as the ‘Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment’ and ‘Reduction of Hazardous Substances’ directives are now being implemented. In this problem however lies a significant business opportunity. Companies in Australia and around the world, such as Dell and Fuji Xerox Australia , are taking advantage of such emerging regulations and consumer pressure to introduce recycling and product take-back services as a means of achieving an advantage over their competitors.

Lecture 2: Digital Delights – Consumers and E-Products

Overview: According to the European Commission, ‘E-Waste is the fastest growing component of municipal trash by a factor of three’. In 2005 the United Nations Environment Program gave an estimate of 20 to 50 million tons of E-Waste being generated every year world wide. Short-life equipment such as computers and mobile phones are the most problematic. The number of personal computers worldwide, ‘increased fivefold – from 105 million machines in 1988 to more than half a billion in 2002’. By 2005, more than 1 billion computers were being sold each year while 100 million computers reached the end of their useful lives, 75 million of which were landfilled.

Lecture 3: E-Product Jujitsu – Shifting Design Methodologies

Overview: Lecture three discusses the opportunities for shifting the e-products design paradigm for product take-back and remanufacture. To manufacture a single computer requires about the same amount of fossil fuel, water and chemicals as the production of a large car – making a 2g memory chip requires 1.3kg of fossil fuel and materials. Not to mention the hours of labour and associated costs with labour, and add to this the future costs enforced by forthcoming regulations of tariffing waste to landfill. When so much money, effort, materials and time is invested to create one-time products that end up at the bottom of a rubbish dump, it’s clear to see that this form of environmental waste is also an economic one.

Course Two

Lecture 1: Responsible Actions – Product Stewardship

Overview: Many developed countries now have some form of regulation in place to combat the issues associated with E-Waste. Many of these regulations were introduced to satisfy the Basel Convention, to varying effect. The four main objectives of the Basel Convention are: 1) to protect human health and the Environment from the adverse effects of hazardous wastes; 2) to minimise the generation of hazardous wastes in terms of quantity and hazardousness; 3) to dispose of them as close to the source of generation as possible with the environmental sound management approach; and 4) to reduce ‘transboundary’ (between nations) movement of hazardous wastes.

Lecture 2: Dealing with E-Waste – Real Challenges

Overview: Overcoming the issues associated with E-Waste faces several barriers as previously outlined. The wasteful nature of the design philosophy currently evident throughout all industries has allowed practices and processes to be embedded into our industrial system and changing them will require creativity, innovation and commitment. The linear ‘cradle-to-grave’ model, sometimes known as ‘take, make and waste’, has formed large infrastructure assets that need to be reassessed. In the cradle-to-grave model, products are designed under the assumption that their materials will be disposed of at end-of-life, with virtually no account for resource reuse or recycling. This practice gives rise to not only a tremendous volume of waste, but also a toxic dispersal. This unit will look at the hard edge of the real challenges that face the early movers seeking to reduce their environmental damage and improve performance.

Lecture 3: A Global Movement – Who is Doing What and Where?

Overview: Across the world many countries have regulations and law to respond to the challenge of E-Waste. RMIT & Product Ecology studies show that Netherlands , Sweden , Switzerland and Denmark have either a landfill ban or material bans in their take-back legislation; and that Norway , Denmark , Belgium , Italy and Japan have either collection and/or recycling targets in legislation. Some of the strictest regulations are the European Union’s ‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment’ (WEEE) directive; ‘Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment’ (RoHS) directive, and ‘Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals’ (REACH). The European Union’s laws have influenced the governments of many countries, particularly Asian countries where e-product is manufactured, to introduce matching laws so that their products can meet the standards for import into the counties of the European Union.


  1. Schmidt, C.W. (2002) ”E-junk explosion’, Environmental Health Perspectives , vol 110, no. 4. Available at http://eHP.niehs.nih.gov/members/2002/110-4/focus.html. Accessed 4 May 2006.
  2. Brigden, K., Labunska, I., Santillo, D. and Allsopp, M. (2005) Recycling of Electronic Wastes in China and India: Workplace and Environmental Contamination, Greenpeace International, p. 3. Available at http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/india/press/reports/recycling-of-electronic-wastes.pdf Accessed 9 July 2006.
  3. Greenpeace (n.d.) Where does e-waste go? Available at www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaigns/toxics/hi-tech-highly-toxic/e-waste-goes. Accessed 1 May 2006.
  4. Worldwatch Institute (2005) When your computer becomes toxic trash, Worldwatch Institute. Available at http://www.worldwatch.org/pubs/goodstuff/computers. Accessed 15 May 2006.
  5. Department of Environment and Heritage (2005) Electrical and electronic product stewardship strategy, DEH, p. 6. Available at http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/waste/electricals/index.html. Accessed 12 May 2006.


Hargroves, K., Stasinopoulos, P., Desha, C. and Smith, M. (2007) Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program: Industry Practice Portfolio – E-Waste Education Courses, The Natural Edge Project, Australia. (TNEP)