What Is The E-Waste Problem And How The World Is Dealing With This
In the past, e-waste was dealt with by dumping it in a landfill or incinerating it. Nowadays, most of the world is dealing with this problem by recycling and reusing old electronics. The United States is going one step further and trying to stop producing new devices that contain toxic chemicals like lead and mercury.
While there are many things we can do to reduce our electronic footprint, some experts say that education about these devices will help us make a difference in preserving our planet’s future. For example, the world’s population disposed of 44.7 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2016, equivalent to approximately 4,500 Eiffel Towers. This number is expected to rise to more than 57,000,000 tons by 2022.
Why is there an increase in e-waste
Every aspect of our lives is increasingly being influenced by technology. Products are now equipped with sensors and semiconductors, allowing smart homes, smartwatches, and T.V.s that stream content from the internet.
Devices are becoming shorter in their life span. Many products will soon be thrown out when their batteries run out and replace with newer models. Companies plan to obsolescence to make it cheaper and more convenient to replace an older product with a newer one. Nevertheless, the companies still make steady profits from their sales.
Electronic devices are becoming more popular as the prices drop, and a growing middle class moves digitally. Half of all households have internet access globally, while 7.7 billion have cell phones.
Multiple solutions are required to solve the e-waste problem
Recycling alone is not enough, given the amount of electronic waste that is growing all over the globe. These are just a few of the many solutions and ideas being explored around the world. They will hopefully inspire others to adopt best practices.
- Designing better products
To reduce e-waste, electronics must be safer and more durable. This means that less toxic materials are used. Stanford University chemical engineers are creating the first biodegradable electronic circuit. They use natural dyes, which dissolve in acid that is 100 times less than vinegar. One group of scientists is turning e-waste into “nanodust” by cooling them and then grinding them into homogeneous powders that can be reused. Ronin8, a Canadian company, has created a technology that separates metals and non-metals using sonic vibrations in recycled waters.
It’s not essential to design products that can be reused and re-manufactured today. However, for a few decades, companies tried modular phones, which allowed consumers to replace parts rather than completely replace their phones. Google, Motorola, and LG all made modular models. However, they failed to meet consumer expectations because they were more complicated and expensive. Nevertheless, companies may create modular phones that appeal to more consumers as they become more aware of the e-waste problem.
- Repair is possible
It’s vital that we can repair and reuse any devices we own, in addition to recycling. However, even if you can fix your electronic device and have the tools, your software may be subject to copyright. Copyright laws often prohibit consumers from modifying, reverse-engineering, or using an unlicensed repairer. Ifixit.org is a website that teaches how to fix devices.
- Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended producer responsibility means that companies who make products are responsible for disposing of the product at the end. This is a way to make waste materials helpful in creating new products. In addition, New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act mandate that manufacturers provide convenient and free e-waste recycling to consumers.
Hong Kong is a significant dumping ground for U.S. electronic waste and also a large producer of e-waste. It handles 70,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, with 80 percent going to Africa and Southeast Asia. In addition, it just established a producer responsibility system, which will require sellers and suppliers of electronic products to cover the cost of proper disposal, collection, handling, and removal of their items.
- Recycling made easier
EcoATM is a safe and convenient way to recycle or sell your old cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players. The U.S. has over 2,700 kiosks where consumers can take their devices. EcoATM will inspect your device based on its model and condition and then pay you right there. These items can then be reused or recycled responsibly.
Baidu Recycle, a smartphone app developed by the United Nations Development Programme and China’s largest internet provider, Baidu, is now available in China. Chinese users can select the item they wish to recycle and enter the date, size, and address. Finally, submit a photograph of the item. Within 24 hours, a certified recycler will come to pick it up. In just two months, 11,000 devices had been recycled.
India and China are exploring ways to combine formal and informal recycling systems to reduce environmental and health hazards and support the informal system that helps many people. Incentives for informal recyclers to divert waste to recycling centers or formal collection would be one strategy. For example, they could get more money to transport cathode-ray tube screens to a center than they would for dismantling them by hand.
A circular economy is an ultimate goal
Circular economies aim to maintain products and their materials at the highest value for as long as possible. Stephanie Kersten-Johnston is an adjunct professor in Columbia University’s Sustainability Management program and Heineken USA’s director of sustainable business.
She explained that the “highest value,” in this context, refers to what is closest to the original product. This allows for the best use of the inherent value of the material and labor involved in creating it. Europe has set the goal of a circular economy for all continents.
Kersten-Johnston used the example of cell phones to explain how electronics could shift towards a circular economy. She explained that the current contract allows you to gradually purchase the phone outright over time so the provider can recover the manufacturing costs. Then, the contract ends, and you are left with a telephone worth practically nothing.
You have to pay all that money for it and can’t do anything with it. This is a flawed model. Imagine a system in which the manufacturer or provider retained ownership of the device. Customers would be charged a lower monthly fee and expected to return it for an upgrade. Customers would still receive their upgrades, while the value could be reclaimed in parts for remanufacturing and materials for recycling.
Kersten-Johnston believes that this type of business model will soon be common because millennial and younger generations don’t value ownership the same as the previous generations and expect responsible behavior from the industry.
It is best to wait until it is necessary before you buy a new device. Then, if possible, get your product repaired. If it is not fixed, you can resell it or recycle it.
You should seal any damaged parts in separate containers before you recycle your device. This will prevent hazardous chemicals from leaking. If you have to handle broken items, wear gloves and a mask. Look for a responsible recycler.
The world needs to take a firm stance on e-waste. In this way, we can ensure that people are not dumping their computers and T.V.s in the back of the garage or tossing them out with other trash.
E-Waste is a severe problem for our environment, and it’s only going to get worse if every device has an expiration date built into its software. Technology companies need to be more proactive about designing products that last longer so less end up in landfills.