As our use of electronic devices and equipment has boomed in recent years, it has brought opportunities to create new jobs, tackle climate change and other environmental challenges, deliver health care and expand education.
Yet with these benefits have also come unintended consequences. E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world with around 50 million tonnes produced each year, equivalent to all commercial aircraft ever built. Only 20% is disposed of appropriately; and when it is not lingering in cabinets or spare rooms, the rest is dumped in landfill, incinerated, or (despite a ban on e-waste exports to developing countries) ends up in poorer countries where it is pulled apart or burnt to recover valuable resources, releasing toxins which damage health, contaminate soil, pollute water sources and enter food supply chains.
In order to tackle this massive amount of waste, a circular ecology of sorts needs to be created in the electronics industry. Here are five practical ways businesses could support in the creation of such a system:
1. Bringing it to Public Attention
The businesses can help to bring the problems of e-waste into public consciousness, in the same way as it is done with plastics. They can look for opportunities to educate customers, employees, households and students on opportunities to recycle, the value of metals and other components, and the environmental impacts associated with incorrect disposal.
2. Making the right procurement choices
The businesses can start asking suppliers the right questions about electronic products/services, including around sustainable design, materials usage, opportunities to repair, putting take-back schemes in place, and opportunities to rent/lease equipment rather than purchase it.
3. Making The electronics durable and efficient
The businesses need to shift their focus from selling more equipment to repairing the existing ones. This way the need to create more equipment is reduced and the machine has a longer life.
4. Reusing the Equipment
If an electronic equipment can no longer be used by one organisation, there are numerous companies which can help in securely removing the data and refurbishing the equipment for reuse. This way, the utility of an equipment is maximised.
5. Providing recycling opportunities
The businesses need to create easily accessible return schemes for householders and employees. For example, HP accepts the old electronic devices and incentivise its customers in order to ensure that the e-waste generated by it is tackled in an appropriate manner.
With business driving forward these practical solutions and working with the Government to create a framework of legislation and incentives to unlock systemic changes, the businesses have the opportunity to transform the sector.