Jan 20, 2020
While electronic recycling has its merits, the need to recycle e-waste must be reduced. In other words, e-waste recycling is not the ideal solution to the e-waste crisis that has taken the world by storm. Unfortunately, many companies seem to have jumped on the “eco-friendly” bandwagon in hopes that they will appear to be a “green” corporation, which may bolster sales.
In reality, however, the biggest issue is that most countries produce excess waste, which includes e-waste. The solution to curb the problem is not to recycle more but to consume less to begin with. Here, we will delve deeper into how we can reduce the need for e-waste recycling.
According to a report recently published by the United Nations, the United States produces over 6 million metric tons of waste per year, which amounts to roughly 14% of the waste that is produced globally. In addition, over 50 million metric tons of electronics are thrown out every year, with only 20% of said e-waste being recycled in some way, shape or form.
That is, nearly 80% of the electronics that were thrown out last year were dumped into landfills, which served to further exacerbate the global e-waste pandemic.
Even worse is that many companies that claim to be recycling companies are anything but. That is, many purported recycling companies actually ship all of their e-waste overseas, where they are actually not recycled.
Instead, salvageable e-waste components are repurposed and valuable minerals are extracted from electronic goods. And, while this may not seem so terrible on the surface, the actual toll it takes on the local population is abysmal.
For instance, many of the methods used to repurpose useable parts and extract minerals are unethical, unsafe, and harmful to the environment. A prime example of improper mineral extraction involves engulfing circuit boards in highly corrosive hydrochloric and nitric acid in order to recover the gold that is found within.
The aforementioned method of gold recovery will invariably lead to waterways being tainted by the toxic acids, and whatever materials are not extracted are dumped into the ground. In fact, globally, proper e-waste recycling methods only account for 15.5% of all recycling, so e-waste recycling is clearly not the answer to the e-waste conundrum.
The fact of the matter is the amount of e-waste that is produced annually continues to grow at an alarming rate of 4% per year, so the issue has only become compounded over time. Made worse is that consumers buy new products at a staggering rate, as many will simply throw out last year’s model of their laptop, tablet, or smartphone, to make way for this year’s model.
In other words, the biggest issue facing e-waste today is mass consumerism, whereby hardware manufacturers intentionally design products with very short life-cycles. In fact, the same UN report that we discussed earlier found that the average consumer replaces their smartphone every two years, even if their phones worked perfectly fine.
Moreover, Apple conceded in their Environmental Responsibility Report that 77% of the carbon footprint of their gadgets stemmed from the fabrication of said electronics, whereas 17% of their carbon footprint was generated from the actual use of their hardware.
As such, the environmental impact of replacing a product, even when it is eventually recycled, is monumental. Therefore, while recycling e-waste has it merits, it is not the quintessential solution to a system that is polluted at its source.
Instead, companies need to stop designing their products with planned obsolescence in mind, and stop being driven by profits and perpetual revenue streams. For instance, instead of coming out with a new iPhone every year, which would entice many early adopters to “upgrade” their phone every year, Apple could launch a new model every five years to encourage their consumers to keep the phone that they have for at least half a decade.
The solution to the e-waste problem is to extend the life of the electronics that are currently in distribution. To do so, products that are currently being used by consumers can be repaired, or maintained periodically, to help extend their lifespan.
Moreover, products that have seen better days can be given new life via refurbishment, or they can be reused in some fashion so that they do not have to be thrown out or recycled. There are also some recent innovations that have joined the fight against e-waste, such as the Fairphone. It has great potential, and organisations, such as repair.org, have focused their efforts towards helping ease the repair process of electronics.
Another possible solution to the e-waste recycling issue is to encourage consumers to buy refurbished electronics at a discount instead of buying brand new retail products every year.
In sum, investing all of one’s efforts and resources in e-waste recycling in order to try and solve the global e-waste debacle is not the best solution. Instead, the only way to have a bona fide and monolithic impact on the e-waste problem is to produce less electronics to begin with, which will inevitably lead to less pollution.
We must also find a way to produce and pollute less, while not negatively impeding the relatively high quality of life that many people have grown accustomed to.
Thus, efforts must be made to extend the lives of devices by building high quality, durable, and reliable devices that are feature-rich and future-proof/driven from day one. By doing so, consumers will not feel the need to replace or upgrade their devices annually.
If you would like to learn more about electronic recycling methods and alternative solutions to e-waste recycling, then please visit our website. eCycle is Canada’s largest and most reputable e-waste solutions recycling organization. You can also call us at 888-945-2611 if you would like to learn more about our asset disposition, recycling, and decommissioning services.
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