Illustration 4: E-waste

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography and (its various HASS-based iterations) content descriptions addressed in the illustration are:

  • The ways that places and people are interconnected with other places through trade in goods and services, at all scales
  • The effects of the production and consumption of goods on places and environments throughout the world and including a country from North-East Asia

Learning goals

In this illustration students have the opportunity to explore issues associated with the disposal of e-waste (electronic waste) and reflect on the negative impacts of society's obsession with the latest technology. The topic is explored to reveal both local and global perspectives. 

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • identifying the environmental consequences of consumption decisions
  • identifying the hazards of electronic waste
  • proposing who should be responsible for safe disposal of electronic waste
  • exploring potential local, national and global solutions to the problem of e-waste.

Geographical understanding and context

The safe disposal of e-waste is a growing problem in Australia and internationally. While we all benefit from advances in technology, little thought is given to what happens to the 'old' technologies. Millions of electronic devices are dumped every day as they go out of fashion or cease to work. Unsafe disposal of such waste has the potential to impact on peoples' health and pollute the environment. The city of Guiyu in China, imports e-waste from other nations with terrible consequences. Australia has not yet arrived at sustainable solutions to the problem of e-waste disposal. We are so accustomed to the idea that the electronic devices we buy and use have a limited lifespan that we seldom consider what happens to obsolete or discarded units. 

Driven by a desire for increased efficiency, or simply to possess the latest technologies, mobile phones, computers, printers, games consoles and other peripheral devices are 'junked' by the millions every year. They are often taken to landfills where they can leach dangerous chemicals into the water table. Even where measures are taken to facilitate safe disposal or recycling, the uptake has been poor. Australia has only recently started to come to grips with the issue of e-waste disposal. China imports e-waste with the aim of recycling the materials from which they are built. Unfortunately, many of the processes used present a range of unacceptable risks. 

Teaching approaches

  • Introducing the concept of e-waste

Start this activity by asking your students to read E-waste: An introduction (PDF). It introduces students to the major themes of this illustration of practice. The text can be discussed and edited. Key words can be placed in a glossary or explanations inserted as footnotes. Direct your students to a website that gives a real-time update of statistics so that the global scale of the e-waste issue can be appreciated. 

  • Preparing an inventory

Ask your students to open the spreadsheet E-waste survey (PDF). Direct them to prepare an inventory of electronic items that they have personally and that are in their homes to identify the scale of the problem locally. Once individual students have completed their spreadsheets they can be merged with those of other students to give a broader perspective on the issue.

  • Considering a case study

Direct students to the resource E-waste Guiyu: An Internet trail (PDF). It contains links to a photographic essay, a film clip and a short news article which provide authoritative, easy-to-understand information about e-waste in Guiyu, China. The information provides the basis for classroom or small-group discussion about the scale of the problem, the associated health risks and possible solutions. Guiyu presents an extreme example, but it is a clear warning about the future and raises the issue of international responsibility.

  • Planning a campaign

Direct your students to look at the document E-waste campaign (PDF). Ask them to consider ways in which they can 'think globally, act locally', and plan an awareness campaign which has the focus on e-waste at their school and the broader school community. A number of tasks are suggested in the resource with the aim to raise awareness about the issue in their community and promote programs that seek to manage e-waste more effectively. 

What you need

Access to the Internet.
E-waste: An introduction (PDF)
E-waste survey (PDF)
E-waste Guiyu: An Internet trail (PDF)
E-waste campaign (PDF).

Curriculum connections

This illustration links with the content descriptions of the following Phase 1 Australian Curriculum.


  • Create imaginative, informative and persuasive texts that raise issues, report events and advance opinions, using deliberate language and textual choices, and including digital elements as appropriate
  • Listen to spoken texts constructed for different purposes, for example to entertain and to persuade, and analyse how language features of these texts position listeners to respond in particular ways
  • Interpret, analyse and evaluate how different perspectives of issue, event, situation, individuals or groups are constructed to serve specific purposes in texts


  • Investigate reports of surveys in digital media and elsewhere for information on how data were obtained to estimate population means and medians
  • Compare data displays using mean, median and range to describe and interpret numerical data sets in terms of location (centre) and spread


  • Plan, select and use appropriate investigation methods, including field work and laboratory experimentation, to collect reliable data; assess risk and address ethical issues associated with these methods