E-Waste: A Mounting Problem with A Silver Lining
Laptops, handphones, TVs, refrigerators… Try taking a look around your home and counting the number of electrical devices you own. Does the number shock you? Now, consider what happens to these devices when they are spoilt and discarded, becoming what we know as e-waste.
E-waste refers to electrical and electronic waste — basically, anything powered by an electrical source, including infocomm technology (ICT) equipment such as laptops and mobile phones, home appliances and miscellaneous devices such as lamps and batteries that has been thrown away. In Singapore, we currently generate about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste every year. That’s equivalent to discarding about 70 mobile phones per person! This number is likely to increase as we move towards the age of Internet of Things (IOT), with more and more of the analog items in our lives being replaced by digital, electric counterparts.
The key issue with e-waste lies in its improper disposal (no, you should not throw them down the rubbish chute or into our blue bins!). These devices often contain small amounts of heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead, that could be potentially harmful to our environment and health. E-waste also contains valuable and scarce materials such as silver and gold, which would be lost if incinerated. Not to mention, the incineration process generates carbon emissions which contribute to climate change.
Thankfully, e-waste is highly recyclable — when properly collected and treated, we’re able to recover upwards of 80% of the precious resources that go into our electronics!
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
To ensure the proper collection and treatment of e-waste, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has introduced a regulated e-waste management system based on the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR approach). Under the EPR framework, companies that manufacture or import regulated electrical and electronic products on the local market will be made responsible for the collection and proper treatment of their e-waste when they reach end-of-life.
This EPR framework applies to five regulated product classes: ICT equipment, large household appliances such as aircons, fridges and TVs, batteries, lamps and solar photovoltaic panels. Retailers of these products are obligated to, during the delivery of the product, provide 1-for-1 take-back services of the old product of the same type at no cost to the consumer. Larger retail stores (having a floor area exceeding 300sqm) must also provide in-store collection services of products of the same type as those sold.
The collected e-waste is then channeled to licensed e-waste recyclers, where they can be properly processed to recover the precious resources. These operators are regulated to ensure that they take all reasonable steps to remove and treat specified pollutants from the e-waste, and to ensure that all data in data-bearing devices are permanently erased or destroyed — this means that you can rest easy knowing that your privacy is protected!
Got a device that falls under this scheme which you would like to recycle? Learn more and find out your nearest e-waste collection point here.
E-Waste Recycling Programmes
For e-waste not covered under the EPR scheme, it’s still easy to recycle them properly. Many e-waste collection points have been set up across Singapore, which are part of voluntary e-waste recycling programmes offered by industry stakeholders. Simply drop off your e-waste at the recycling points for proper recycling.
Keep an eye out the next time you’re out and about in shopping centres or residential estates, and you may notice a variety of e-waste bins. Here are a couple of examples:
Check out a map of them here to find one closest to you!
What You Can Do to Minimise E-Waste
Finally, as individuals, we can all do our part to minimize generating e-waste in the first place. Here are some tips:
- Buy Only What You Need
- While it might be tempting to change your phone every time a new model comes out on the market , consider if you really need that marginal improvement in specs if your current phone still works well!
2. Repair First
- Hiring a professional to repair your electronics will often cost you a fraction of the price of buying a new one, on top of the environmental benefits.
- Check out Repair Kopitiam — a community-driven project where volunteers trained in repair work can coach you through the process of troubleshooting and repairing your electronic equipment.
3. Embrace Second-Hand
- Consider buying second-hand, for example at vintage shops or Cash Converters, and off platforms such as Carousell.
- You can also resell your used electronics if they are still in good condition.
- This maximises their utility before they can finally be retired into the e-waste bin at the end of their lifespans!