What is E-waste & How to Reduce it?

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What is E-waste?

E-waste is short for Electronic Waste. As mobile phones, laptops, and unknown cables reach the end of their useful lives, they are oftentimes kept hidden away in the back of cupboards and drawers as they become useless after an upgrade. These unused electronics are known as E-waste, and when they are not disposed of properly, can cause significant environmental damage if they make it to the landfill.

When E-waste is sent to landfills, it can leak harmful chemicals into the earth, thus polluting the atmosphere, the water table, and causing physical health problems to workers and those who live nearby. For this reason, throwing old electronics into the bin instead of recycling them can be extremely harmful to the planet and all of its inhabitants.

Businesses are one of the biggest offenders

It may not come as a surprise that some of today’s largest consumer electronics companies are the planet’s biggest contributors to the growing E-waste stream. With offices, production plants, and business services all using electronic equipment on a daily basis, large amounts of E-waste are continually being generated. As the world becomes further developed and technology advances at an ever-increasing rate, the E-waste stream is expected to grow exponentially along with it.

As businesses expand, buying new equipment helps to make their processes cheaper and more efficient. New and up-to-date electronic equipment is the lifeblood for many businesses; therefore, this trend is not likely to decrease. However, the way businesses choose to dispose of these assets has the potential for creating hazardous waste or, through recycling, to contribute to the reduction of waste and newly mined minerals and metals. 

Recycling old electronics allows for the reuse of valuable internal parts & elements that can help prevent the need to create new ones, thus saving our environment. If society plans to continue to upgrade its devices, it’s important to look after the old ones in the correct manner. Opting to recycle E-waste is the best way to dispose of electronics and help to prevent environmental damage by allowing the reuse of internal components for future technology.

What can be salvaged from E-waste?

Much like how a shirt button can be repurposed and sewn onto a jacket, parts from E-waste recycling can help to make electronic devices useful again. The recycling process begins by dismantling the device, extracting the leftover intact elements, and then reusing them in the creation of new technology or for the refurbishment of existing technology. 

For example, nearly every component of a laptop, hairdryer, or speaker can be recycled. Circuit boards and other internal pieces can be removed, thus allowing specialists to extract precious metals, such as iron and gold, to be reused and spared from landfills. Reusing these precious metals also helps prevent the need to gather virgin ores from the earth, which helps save Earth’s precious resources.

In a study undertaken by the Global E-waste monitor, reports found that in 2019, 53.6 metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was reported worldwide. By recycling little more than one-quarter of this E-waste (at the current recycling rate of 17.4%) £7.3 billion of reusable primary raw materials was recouped, as well as 4 Mt of reusable secondary materials, and the recycling process spared 15 Mt of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. While these statistics clearly demonstrate the importance and success of recycling, E-waste is currently growing by around 2 Mt per year, meaning that recycling rates must increase by at least this amount and more in order to get to a healthy level. 

Lost resources due to improper disposalRecouped resources if 17.4% is recycled
44.4 Mt of total E-waste 4 Mt of reusable raw secondary materials 
98 Mt of CO2 into atmosphere15Mt CO2 spared from atmosphere
£41.6 billion worth of raw materials£7.3 billion recoverable value of raw primary materials
Statistics sourced from the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, Contributed to by the World Health Organisation.

While the idea of recycling E-waste may not seem novel, many are unaware that it is possible to achieve a more circular E-waste economy, which means beginning to look at recycled products as mines for precious metals and other raw materials. Much like a physical mine, a circular economy looks at reusing materials as a way of mitigating the burden of primary mining (market price fluctuations, material scarcity, availability, and access to resources.)  By reusing, recycling, and refurbishing old devices as often as possible, society can turn e-waste effectively into a renewable resource. This will allow us to reduce the demand for primary, earth mining and create a greater demand for electronic recycling facilities leading to job creation and a reduction in harmful emissions and pollutants entering the atmosphere via landfills. 

How to help reduce E-waste at your workplace?

As previously mentioned, business contribute to a large amount of E-waste. For this reason, the workplace is a great place to start looking for solutions. It’s often seen as the responsibility of directors and senior officers to implement eco-activities within a business. However, it’s even more effective when colleagues step-up to invest in initiatives that will help the company.

E-waste schemes are most effective when committed to by the majority of those involved at an organisation. The more people willing to take the time and effort to ensure old technology is recycled responsibly, the easier the effort is maintained.

A good place to start is by contacting the head of IT to discuss how your company deals with old electronics as it can initiate a discussion about proper or better methods of disposal. If the IT team can commit to contributing to the recycling initiative it will be easier to convince other departments to do the same.

Some talking points to consider are the benefits that recycling E-waste can provide:

  • Recycling of any kind can be a great selling point for potential customers when trying to make a sale.
  • Proper disposal of data-bearing assets reduces the risk of a cybersecurity attack.
  • Donating old assets to local communities displays corporate social responsibility.
  • Usable devices can be sold on for a rebate to generate financial revenue.

With the wide range of positive benefits to E-waste recycling, there’s bound to be an appealing point to everyone in the workplace.

Progress takes time

Electronic waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams, so now more than ever, it’s up to businesses and individuals to take the necessary steps to help save the planet. All progress takes time when implementing new ideas into businesses. Resistance and hesitation are setbacks that are bound to arise, but these can be resolved with communication and strategic thinking. Starting with smaller initiatives is the best way to build up long-term E-waste disposal strategies. This rings true within businesses but also with society as a whole. 

For more information on E-waste recycling strategies, visit The S2S Group website

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