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E-waste knowledge gap: are privacy concerns preventing the recycling of old technology?

When it comes to technology, most of us find it hard to resist ditching the old to make way for the new!  But what do we do with our old gadgets?

Do they find their way to an e-waste heaven, or are they making a mountain of old computers, tablets, and power leads in the back of your cupboards?

Further, how do we ensure our personal information on these gadgets remains private?

It is a conundrum in this technological age – how to recycle old technology, but at the same time ensure that the personal information can’t be accessed.

I understand, as well as anyone, that the tech recycling challenge is both a personal and a business matter – what we do with our own devices is one thing, but it also means that business needs to be even more proactive about the security of data within their organisations.

New research has found 38% of Australians are afraid to drop off e-waste for recycling, due to privacy concerns[1]. This means we have a long way to go to get the ‘zero e-waste’, and more needs to be done to ensure we crack the waste challenge.

I believe there are two main questions that need to be answered to crack this challenge. How do we get more Australians, including businesses, to actively recycle their technology? And, who is responsible for ensuring data security – companies who collect data, consumers who provide it, or a combination of the two?

I am in no doubt that the e-waste recycling industry can adapt to the fears around data privacy to lift the rate of e-waste recycling. It’s about education and awareness.

Where companies are concerned, there are clear legal obligations to do the right thing when collecting personal data. The Privacy Act (1988), which includes 13 Australian Privacy Principles, is very clear and requires businesses to secure the personal information they collect and use.

But this is only one part of the story; finding the sweet spot is the tricky part as businesses of all sizes struggle to put in place a formal structure for compliance but they don’t know how far to go, without finding themselves bogged down at the extreme end of compliance.

Hiding the e-waste in the household rubbish or office cupboard might be the easiest solution for many – we certainly don’t want that, as it will probably end up in landfill!

Awareness means getting the message out into the community that it is our responsibility as consumers and as businesses to actively manage our own data and, when it comes time, to delete it from superfluous devices.

I call on everyone to be aware that you can always check with the manufacturer of your product, to discover how to delete your data; or you can check online to find the software to remove that data.

Together we can all take a leading role and present a united front to help everyone understand how to safely wipe data from their devices and get them into a proper e-waste recycling process.

It’s good for us, and it’s even better for the planet!

About the author

Carmel Dollisson is CEO, Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform Limited (ANZRP), which operates the free TechCollect e-waste recycling program that focuses on responsible recycling to achieve sound environmental outcomes.  

Carmel is a regular presenter at conferences with a passion for excellence and 30 years’ experience in management as a practising manager, consultant and interim executive.  She has successfully led and been engaged in innovation/best practice, strategy and execution, performance optimisation, procurement, project and change management in Australia, UK, Hong Kong and China.

Previously, Carmel ran her own consulting practice, working with the Financial Planning Association of Australia, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, the Australian Stock Exchange and the Marsh & McLennan Group of Companies among others.  Before this, she was Director of Business Services for Mallesons, the pre-eminent Australian law firm. Carmel holds an MBA from RMIT Melbourne and is a member of the Institute of Company Directors.

[1] Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP) research

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Carmel Dollisson

Carmel Dollisson

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