E-Waste: The Global Concern
In the last decade we’ve witnessed a proliferation of technical innovation that has made computers, smart phones and other electronics affordable, and ultimately, ubiquitous. We’ve embraced the world of consumer electronics with open arms, but their effect on our world has not been so welcome.
Towards the end of 2013, the UN was issuing warnings that tonnes of old electronic goods were being illegally exported and dumped in developing countries, creating floods of toxic e-waste. Then in 2014 more reports emerged that further stressed how the developing world was receiving ever-increasing quantities of e-waste from the West, and often illegally.
As the market in which electronic goods are produced continues to grow exponentially alongside the kind of technical innovation that increases levels of demand and replacement, the implications for the environment are dire.
The term “e-waste” could be perceived as a misleading one as most of the items that it describes aren’t just waste, they’re containers of toxic substances too. As these items start to stack up in various landfill sites around the world, poisonous materials will start to leak into the environment and contaminate the earth, sea and air.
In other cases, the e-waste is burned by those seeking to extract the more valuable materials like copper wiring from the malleable casing. Through burning the electronic waste, even more toxins are produced, some of which are among the world’s most deadly and damaging. Unfortunately, with Interpol revealing how one in every three shipping containers departing from the West (and destined for the developing world) are full of illegal e-waste, such activities have become the norm as huge junkyards start to replace natural areas.
Privacy and security issues
With most e-waste being comprised of old computers and smart phones that once contained a wealth of personal information, there’s more than the environment at stake too. Rufus Hirsch from clearance company Clearance Solutions* says that anybody disposing of e-waste that was used to hold potentially sensitive information must practice data destruction or risk their private information falling into the wrong hands.
Numerous reputable names including the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) and Idaho Power Company have been muddied in the past due to inefficient data destruction. Through failing to wipe their computers’ hard-drives before disposing of them, they found their confidential databases in the possession of ebay buyers.
The culture of capitalism rewards those that compete on the largest-scale to design and manufacture desirable commodities. And right now, technology like tablets, smartphones and TVs are among the most desired. As we continue to move towards an increasingly digital world, it’s only reasonable to assume that the production of e-waste is going to become more of a problem unless we change our approach to recycling.
One of the more recent and now ubiquitous technical innovations in recent years is the e-cigarette. If adopted by smokers who want to reduce their cigarette intake, they could result in fewer cigarette butts (the most littered item in the world) on the streets. But TABlites, an e-cigarette retailer are keen to stress that e-cigarettes, though small, still count as e-waste and must be treated with environmental responsibility.
The idea that the equivalent of cigarette butts on the streets could be electronic cigarettes in landfill is a frightening thought. For some however, it has inspired ideas of a more sustainable future. In PC Mag, an argument was proposed that suggested how e-cigs could provide an improved model for dealing with e-waste: through the huge reach of tobacco companies to a variety of vendors worldwide, including convenience stores, an e-waste infrastructure could be established to capture not only their own e-waste, but all e-waste.
An accessible system for recycling e-waste could arrive much sooner than expected but in a range of different forms. With new e-waste laws being announced in aspirational locations like New York, we’re going to need easier ways of recycling e-waste before it’s filling our streets. Hopefully, in our supply-and-demand culture, a huge demand for people needing to recycle or repair e-waste will be met with the next big business model that puts a closed loop on e-waste.
This post was generously sponsored by Clearance Solutions, a UK-based provider of e-waste solutions