Discarded and obsolete electronic equipment, also known as electronic waste or e-waste, is becoming a global problem. E-waste includes computers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, televisions, USB devices, printers, and so on. Such equipment may not necessarily be in working order. But with technology being constantly upgraded, the disposal of obsolete electronic equipment is frequently occurring, resulting in the rapid accumulation of e-waste, and one of the fastest-growing forms of waste globally.
E-waste today accounts for a significant amount of all municipal solid waste globally, and is nearly the same amount as all plastic packaging, but is considered even more hazardous. This is a big concern considering that new data suggests that there will be over 50 billion networked devices (including commercial sensors and smart home devices) thanks to the Internet of Things, in addition to nearly 3 billion mobile devices in the world by 2020.
Many of the materials used in the manufacture of electronic devices can be recycled for other applications. For instance, 90 percent of the materials used to build a mobile phone handset can be removed and reused. In this regard, 60 to 90 percent of future greenhouse gas emissions can be prevented by reducing e-waste globally through recycling. Yet, nearly 500,000 tonnes of mobile phones end up being thrown away.
Reduce E-Waste Buildup
With technology playing an ever-increasing role in commerce and society, proper e-waste management to protect the environment is becoming increasingly difficult in all industries. Improper waste handling and disposal have risks at both the financial and social level as industries risk ruining their reputation as more and more people go green. Organizations that take the initiative to restructure their supply and distribution chains sustainably can effectively minimize the risks of pollution and liabilities while developing their reputation as responsible environmental stewards.
Recycling old electronic equipment and devices to recover precious metals is a big industry that is estimated to be worth over $62 billion. This translates to three times the total value of the world’s silver mining input. Unfortunately, recovering the valuable materials from e-waste is quite a challenging endeavour. As such, some recycling plants leverage the informal recycling sector where the process involves setting fire to huge piles of e-waste to get rid of the plastic and leave the metals. While this makes it easier to retrieve gold, silver, and copper, it also exposes people and the environment to toxic fumes from burning lead, mercury, cadmium, and other hazardous materials.
Creating a More Sustainable Future
In response to the challenges brought about by electronic waste worldwide, which range from pollution to health dangers to lost value, governments and businesses need to not only find better waste handling and recycling programs but also reduce the number of discarded electronic devices. This requires manufacturers to design products that are more durable rather than disposable. As such, at their end-of-life, they can be safely and easily recycled. Such measures require different strategies such as buy-back and trade-in programs by manufacturers and retailers, or even switching to service-subscription rather than asset-ownership models, so devices are leased for specific durations and then returned for recycling and replacement.
Furthermore, different developed nations, with input from specific industries, businesses, and communities, have created National Waste Policies to administer free collection and recycling services for different types of electronic waste for households and businesses. Pollution due to electronic waste is a serious concern, and national regulators are looking at e-waste disposal. Companies can face fines and litigation with settlements for improper disposal in the millions of dollars. In order to safeguard their organization and reputation, businesses need to execute not only effective e-waste management strategies but also secure appropriate insurance coverage for any remaining e-waste exposures.
There’s also the need to increase e-waste collection rates at regional, national, and global levels. Compared to the amount of electronic waste generated, less than half of it is collected for recycling. For instance, Asia generates about 41 percent of global e-waste, yet it only collects 15 percent of it. The high share of waste generated is partly due to the import of e-waste from other continents. North America generates about 25 percent of global e-waste, while Europe is at 27 percent. However, Europe has a higher collection rate at 35 percent compared to Asia, while North America is at about 17 percent. The differences in collection rates are due to different factors, such as EU directives for minimum annual collection rates for member states, and consumer campaigns that include payments to citizens for waste return.
The safe and secure disposal of e-waste is crucial for general practises, as it is for individuals and businesses to help minimize pollution, reduce the carbon footprint, and protect the environment.
For more information on reducing e-waste, contact eCycle Solutions toll free at (888) 945-2611 or contact us here.