Electronic Recycling’s Role in Advancing a Greener, More Equitable Future
Ones and Zeros.
When you dispose of your old computer, where does it go? It may sound like a philosophical question, but given the increased adoption of electronic devices, I think it is a question worth asking. With new devices deployed to consumers multiple times a year, can anyone be blamed for finding themselves in a pile of out-dated technology? I am a strong believer that e-waste is a growing problem.
“Only 20% of the world’s e-waste is properly recycled.”
Surprisingly, only 20% of the world’s e-waste is properly recycled. This leaves millions of tonnes of batteries, motherboards, and OLEDs forgotten in landfills across the globe. In many cases, some of the world’s lowest-paid workers find their way into these landfills to mine the precious metals from the computing components. Continual exposure to lead and mercury makes this form of renegade mining a dangerous and potentially deadly profession.
Throughout the evolution of technology, production and adoption have outpaced the ethical and regulatory progress. The average consumer is forced to calculate the cost-benefit of pollution in almost every electronic purchase they make – these goods contribute to the gravest Pandora’s Box.
Therefore, what can be done? Given the rapid adoption of our smartphone-enhanced lifestyles, we find ourselves at another crossroad. On average, each one of us potentially contributes one new phone annually to the world’s e-waste supply. This is not inclusive of countless and now obsolete dongles, adapters, and peripherals. I believe the magnitude of this problem requires active participation in the solution. Through advocation and education of the public on the topic of e-waste, the ERA has become one of Canada’s leaders in the fight against e-waste and the cultivation of environmental sustainability.
Without necessary tools like a laptop or a cell phone, millions of people around the world are forced to thrive outside the new economy. Only through attentive action by electronic device producers and consumers will the true work begin. My vision for the birth of the Electronic Recycling Association in 2004 was to give promise to our future and empower millions of lives through recycling and reuse.
“Governments must explore the “reuse first” approach to retired equipment.”
Governments must explore the “reuse first” approach to retired equipment. We live in a “consumption-based” economy and there are many reasons organizations choose to retire their equipment. Leveraging new features, functions or capabilities is one – taking advantage of vendor incentives to buy more is another. As such, a significant volume of retiring equipment is still functional and represents productive use to others. Why route functional equipment for end-of-life destruction-based recycling if it is not at the end of life?
Reuse is the most ecological approach to this growing waste stream. It also provides opportunities for individuals or organizations in need of critical support for their success.
I am dedicated to the mission and the broader goal of providing underprivileged communities with the equipment they desperately need. With drop-off locations and pick-up services across North America, the ERA continues to provide a meaningful way for organizations and individuals to deal with their equipment in a safe and secure manner up to NAID standards.
The active involvement of consumer electronic producers is a key area in which the wider environmental sector’s philosophy seems to differ from the electronics producers themselves. Unfortunately, many of the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) – or the VARs (Value Added Reseller) – are often those selling the equipment and view reuse as a threat to new sales.
“Only by restructuring a better lifecycle will we see a future free of waste where every citizen is empowered to join the digital economy.”
Our consumption-driven economy and the relentless pursuit of growth, unfortunately, prioritise financial achievement over sustainability. This is not only inherent to the technology sector, but there are also numerous cases in other industries where companies would prefer to see their functional goods be put to waste. The decisions we make today have the potential to drastically affect the supply chains of tomorrow. Only by restructuring a better lifecycle will we see a future free of waste where every citizen is empowered to join the digital economy.