E-Waste Recycling, Reuse and Reduce: Electronic waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream with harmful consequences to the planet and to humankind. It is about time to redesign the electronic industry. Learn how.
In our society having the latest version of an electronic goods is yet seen as something cool and even a status symbol. Consumers queueing to be the first ones to get a new gadget is a great marketing hit.
While consumers want to get the most out of technology, companies are speeding the pace of obsolescence, forcing us into shorter upgrade cycles. Smartphone batteries can’t be easily replaced, old cables don’t work on new laptops, and software firms push upgrades that will not run on old devices.
Our way of producing and consuming electronic goods is deeply rooted in the linear economy approach of “make – take – dispose”. No wonder electronics are currently the world’s fastest- growing waste stream. The e-waste problem is threatening and is expected to hit even greater proportions as the world upgrades to 5G. Millions of smartphones, modems and other gadgets incompatible with 5G networks will be made obsolete.
E- WASTE RECYLING / WHERE IS ALL THIS E-WASTE GOING NOW ?
In the West only 20% of e-waste ends up in appropriate recycling facilities. The remaining 80% is sent, often illegally, to developing countries where they are dumped in landfills or incinerated.
A great amount of electronic waste is pulled apart by hand or burned by the world’s poorest workers in a crude form of urban mining. Within very poor working conditions, various toxic electronic components are inappropriately disposed. This is harmful not only to the environment but also, to workers.
Additionally, according to Mr. Achim Steiner, the United Nations Development Programme administrator,
“[…] we are throwing away an enormous amount of raw materials that are essentially re-useable. Whether it is gold, silver or some of the rare earths.”
The amount of such materials available above ground in unused electronics now surpasses the quantity in the ground. Instead of mining for raw materials, we could simply harvest all these valuable e-waste resources. We would generate significantly less CO2 emissions when compared to mining the earth’s crust for fresh minerals. It would make much more sense from both economic and environmental perspectives.
E- WASTE RECYLING / WHAT IS NEXT? WHAT CAN WE ALL DO?
The next, urgent and only step going forward is to redesign the electronics industry.
A sustainable industry that allows us to re-use our devices as well as recycle e-waste in safe and novel ways. This requires a global effort from common citizens, politicians, educators, companies and consumers.
In some parts of Europe, Canada and in some U.S. states lawmakers have passed the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, which require manufacturers to create and fund systems to recycle or collect obsolete products. It is only fair that multibillion-dollar corporations such as Apple and Samsung should pick up the cost of recycling the devices they produce.
While laws and new policies are crucial, we all should make an effort to change the way we consume and own things. As consumers we have a great power to spread the word and support sustainable and circular initiatives, including innovative designs and businesses.
We have selected some initiatives about e-waste recycling and redesign to inspire and help you to take action.
E-waste recycling and redesign / projects and initiatives
Ore Streams Project
Ore Streams project is an investigation into the recycling of electronic waste. They use a diversity of media to reflect on how design can be an important agent for responsible use of resources.
Formafantasma design studio took part in the Ore Streams project and designed a series of office furniture: chairs, desks, cabinets, and cubicles – made of recycled iron, aluminium, dead stocks of computer cases and recycled electronic components. The outcome is aesthetically pleasing and manages to address the complex role design plays in transforming e-waste into desirable products.
|| Be inspired, watch their presentation video here
|| Access their archive library and learn more.
Various devices are often manufactured and enjoyed at the expense of exploited labor, unbearable working conditions, illicit mixed resources and induced conflict. Fairphone, a smartphone company, aims to address these ethical implications that begin at the very source of the electronic industry supply chain.
In the production of their smartphones, the company uses more recycled substances, sources the ones that are less harmful to the environment, and works with mines that empower vulnerable communities and provide better working conditions.
In order to tackle the short life spans of smartphones and reduce e-waste, they have designed the Fairphone in modular parts so that non-operational components can be replaced and/or repaired. They also sell spare parts, offer repair tutorials and have a “take back program” that supports the reuse and recycling of old phones.
|| Learn more about the Fairphone here
|| Join their recycling program
iFixit is a wiki-based site that teaches people how to fix almost anything. Anyone can create a repair manual for a device, and anyone can also edit the existing set of manuals to improve them. The site is empowering individuals to share their technical knowledge with the rest of the world.
You can take part here
IYWTo, or ‘If You Want To’, is an open platform that helps people leading a more sustainable life. They support projects, products and services that are aligned with this purpose in different categories such as: neighbourhood and community help schemes; eco-friendly transport; sourcing local produce; reducing heat and water usage, renewable energy, recycling etc.
Anyone can access the platform and browse for near services and projects, including electronic recycling initiatives. All you need to do is go to the platform, check their menu and find out about projects near you. You can also submit your own sustainable initiative on the platform and help your community.
If you found this article insightful, please go ahead and share it with your family, friends and networks. We all need to engage in this huge challenge of reducing e-waste. The more people are informed, the more likely they are to take action. Shall we start the repair, reuse and reduce revolution? It is about time!