With the world currently engaged in a frenzied discussion about the right steps forward when it comes to climate change mitigation, environmental issues are top of the agenda. But the world is facing another big issue regarding sustainability: electronic waste (also known as e-waste).
According to Statista figures, the amount of global e-waste generated grew from 9.2 million metric tones to 53.6 million tonnes between 2014 and 2019 – a shocking increase that underscores just how significant the global proliferation of electronic devices has been over the past decade.
There are many issues derived from this type of waste, and there is still much we can do to fight it. In this article, we explore the problem and what can be done.
What is e-waste? Why does it occur?
E-waste is waste comprised of electronic devices. Phones, computers, televisions, tablets – if a device is no longer needed and discarded, either due to it breaking or the owner requiring an upgrade, it becomes e-waste.
This type of waste has been growing due to a range of factors. First, the spread of electronics means that there are more devices in circulation than ever before – in 2016, there were 3.6 billion smartphone users worldwide, a number that had nearly doubled to 6.4 billion in 2021.
Second, planned obsolescence. Since there is an economic imperative for device manufacturers to design and release devices regularly, with incremental upgrades to the technology within them, devices are designed to only work for a limited period. Either components within the devices break, or the software that runs on them no longer supports the technology.
And third, throwaway culture. Customers are encouraged to regularly buy new devices, as opposed to upgrading components within them or fixing them. They’re encouraged to do this via advertising, reduced-cost devices, and device designs that prevent owners from upgrading or repairing components.
How to reduce e-waste
There are plenty of steps we can all take to reduce e-waste levels. The most important is to change our relationship with our devices. Instead of seeing them as something to be constantly upgraded, we need to keep a hold of them and not be afraid of a few scratches. Investing in a good case, for instance, can add months or years to your device’s lifespan, removing it from the waste system.
Business must also do their part, introducing recycling schemes to minimise their impact. Richard Curtin, SVP of Technology at Raspberry Pi and electronics retailer OKdo, explains the company’s approach as being based “on reusing what we have in a sustainable way. Our scheme will aim to begin the recycling of a proportion of the 40 million Raspberry Pi’s in circulation today that are pre-loved but no longer used. This is a part of our ESG strategy and ongoing commitment to sustainability, electronic waste recycling and ‘tech for good’”.
And we must all push tech manufacturers to curtail practices of planned obsolescence and bow to initiatives like the Right to Repair, which will make it a legal requirement for businesses to design products that can be repaired by third parties.
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