E Waste : Is There an Easy Solution

I have been involved in metals recycling since I was nineteen years old (except for a two and half years hiatus). In this time I have seen the exponential increase in electronics such as computers, cellphones, smartphones, appliances… Each of these have decreased in size over the years while, at the same time, increased in power and efficiency. All of this, on the surface, is a good thing for producers of these products and consumers alike. Producers have brought down cost by using more efficient manufacturing techniques and cheaper materials while consumers have benefited from smaller more powerful products. This all seems to be good all around, however it does come with a cost. And this cost is long term and a very heavy one. What happens AFTER these products are no longer useful or stop working? According to Greenpeace International the majority of these products (also referred to as WEEE waste electrical and electronic equipment or e-waste) end up being “dumped” in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, and China. The results of this mass dumping has created “e-waste villages”.

E-waste is the fastest growing recycling sector, In 2005, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimated that the total volume of e-waste generated worldwide would increase at a minimum rate of 3–5% per year, nearly three times as fast as the overall growth of the municipal waste stream.

What can be done to stop the irresponsible management of e waste? Is there an easy solution? I a single word no there isn’t an easy solution to this complicated problem. However there are ways to effectively manage end-of-life e waste activities. These include reuse, servicing, re manufacturing, recycling, and responsible disposal. Greener designs on the manufacturing levels as well as development of greener materials used in the making of these products would go a long way in the management of e waste as well.

My emphasis would be on reuse. I believe this area of end-of-life e waste has not been fully explored. There is a growing, usually small family owned businesses, industry that is refurbishing items like computers, cellphones, smartphones,… Also large companies like Microsoft have been on the forefront of reuse. They are among a growing group of companies that are making refurbished computers available to underdeveloped populations as well as other consumers. For example a program launched in 2015 by the non-profit organization Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI). This program called R2 Ready for Reuse is supported by Microsoft and PC Rebuilders and Recyclers. The aim of the program is to encourage consumers to purchase refurbished computers. These computers will be labelled to provide quality assurances for buyers of used computers. Furthermore purchasers will be able to view the device’s testing record to ensure it is in good working condition. These labels are provided to the companies that have been certified by SERI by meeting strict standards in the refurbishing process.

This is just one of many programs that will go along way to insuring good responsible best practices of managing end-of-life e waste. I feel these and other programs like them are the best solutions for the long term future to resolve the e waste problems.

E Waste : Is There an Easy Solution

References

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/detox/electronics/the-e-waste-problem/where-does-e-waste-end-up/. Published February 24,2009

http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1155&context=pomona_theses. Edwards, Laura. 2016

http://wmr.sagepub.com/content/30/11/1113.abstract. Herat,Sunil and Agamuthu, P. Published July 30, 2012.