The e-waste crisis can often leave people feeling a little like they’re stuck in the mud. It’s a complicated and vast issue bearing all the trademarks of confusion and helplessness. This has created a strange paradox for many of us as in the wake of the age of digitalisation, technology is rapidly becoming even more rooted in our lives, and so here we find ourselves in a bit of a tricky position.
But this isn’t all our fault. The manufacturing and, therefore, disposal of electronics is inherently complicated, and daily, we are bombarded with the latest and greatest gadgets to make your life just that little bit easier. As you read this article, we encourage you to take a moment to look around and observe just how much electronics have become interwoven in our day to day. This indispensable role that electronics play in our lives comes at a cost that few of us are fully aware of. Yet, there are ways to improve how we make, consume, and treat these items to make as little negative impact as possible. But first, let’s start with some background on the e-waste crisis.
What is e-waste?
E-waste is the discarded equipment such as lighting bulbs, phones, laptops and other appliances that are known as electronic waste or “e-waste” for short. These products contain toxic chemical substances that need to be recycled under certain conditions and, if not done so, can cause severe health and environmental risks.
What kind of problems are we facing?
The global e-waste monitor estimates that in 2019 the world will generate circa 50 Mt (million metric tonnes) of e-waste, and these figures are only predicted to increase. This presents a huge environmental and economic cost, especially when only 20% of the e-waste we generate is documented to be collected and properly recycled, while a very tiny percentage of the remaining 80% is thrown into the residual waste and what remains is dumped, illegally traded, and recycled under poor conditions, further composing human health, safety, and the environment. For a detailed understanding of this issue, we recommend watching Welcome To Sodom, (Florian Weigensamer, Christian Krönes, Germany 2018); this arresting documentary reveals how many individuals are putting their lives at risk to make a living by processing the e-waste to recover metals like copper.
Why does this amount of e-waste continue to grow?
This is no big secret, and it’s one that many of us have come to accept, but at what cost? The most pertinent example when it comes to modern-day obsolescence is smartphones. Often after two years of use, these devices’ batteries and/or operating systems become too weak to keep up with their newer counterparts. Therefore, forcing customers to buy products more frequently so that these companies can earn regular profits.
For the producers: rethink the making of electronics.
Did you know that electronics contain precious and rare earth metals such as gold, silver, titanium, gallium, and tin, among others that are only present in limited quantities on our planet, which is why by the end of our century, the largest metal reserves will no longer be underground but above ground in the form of gold bars and electronic devices. The global e-waste monitor reports that the total value of all raw materials present in e-waste is estimated at approximately 55 Billion Euros, which is more than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries in the world. So, a fortune is buried in e-waste fills, but not all of it can be recycled. There is now growing pressure on manufacturers of electronic devices to take responsibility and recycle these materials themselves.
Our consumer culture
Do these words feel all too familiar? Better, newer, sooner, buy, use, discard, replace. We live in a throw-away society, and every year we are throwing away literally tons of electronics because we don’t know how to fix them or because of our ravenous appetite for newness. In an ironic twist, once the novelty wears off, it can often leave us feeling a little empty. We can do better if we are willing to unlearn and relearn; how we consume, what and how often.
So, what can we do?
Repair like we care.
A repair saves around 2/3 of the resources compared to buying a new item. For example, the production of a brand new smartphone creates approximately 70 kg of CO2. At the same time, the manufacturing of a spare part is up to nine times more economical when it comes to resource consumption.
Kaputt is a German-based company dedicated to making electronics repair easy. They aim to help the average consumer extend their products’ lives by providing access to spare parts and instructional videos to facilitate our own repairs or help us find a professional and appropriate repair service close by. Alternatively, donation or selling the old device for a new, used one is possible.
Believing in second chances: refurbished phones from reputable sellers
Many refurbished phones offer that good as new feel and come with a warranty as your safety net if anything goes wrong. A big plus is that your bank account will thank you as you’re often paying far less.
The sharing economy continues to extend its wings. Grover gives people the opportunity to rent devices and technology for as long as they need. Plus, in case of damage, 90% of the repair costs are covered by the company. Finally, if you grow an attachment to your rental, purchasing the device is possible or if not, return it to Grover, so it’s ready to be leased out to the next person.
A proper goodbye.Disposing of electronics correctly does make a difference. So, go to a certified e-waste recycler or give it back to the company you bought it from. Many of them are now accepting old gadgets with an incentive. Alternatively, some electronics shops accept old electronics; you can also find e-waste drop off points scattered around your city.