A UN report has recently been published on the topic of electronic waste. Globally, e-waste accounts for 46 million tonnes. What changes do we have witnessed on their quantity, and do we treat them properly?
E-waste is not waste like the other varieties of waste humans produce. Their environmental impact is particularly strong and the volume increases twice as fast. In 2014, electrical and electronic waste thus represented a new historical record, they amounted, according to the report by the United Nation University, 41.8 million tonnes against 39.8 million tonnes in 2013.
60% of the waste found fit in the category of kitchen or bathroom equipment (washing machines, microwave ovens, refrigerators). Other, smaller sizes, such as mobile phones, laptops, or printers, represent 7% of the waste produced.
Many factors explain this rapid and worrisome increase in the amount of e-waste. The real problem is that the useful lives of these objects is too short: their time of use ever smaller. We actually witnessed a widespread and accelerated obsolescence, so the producers (which offer products for not last) and users which, taken in a mad race for consumption, feel the need to change very quickly. Faced with the expected technological innovations (it is estimated, for example, that the number of connected objects across the world could reach 89 billion in 2020), the volume of electronic waste should continue to grow to reach some 50 million tonnes in 2018. Except to change our behavior, the issue is that of recycling.
Most of the waste cited by the report (phones, computers, printers, washing machine) are completely recyclable. How is it that we come to such a waste?
Recycling is simply inadequate and inefficient. According to the report, only one-sixth of these e-waste is recycled. Yet these wastes are resources. They indeed contain many reusable materials such as gold, silver or aluminum. The UN estimates that all these devices scrapped in 2014, contained for 48.4 billion euros of reusable materials. The recycling chain is itself very complex and depends on many of the laws in force in a given territory. In fact, a large majority of this waste disappear official recycling circuits. They illegally fail in developing countries who are trying to recycle, with no real expertise address the health and environmental risks involved. It is, therefore, urgent to develop real waste recovery strategies.
If the UN is sounding the alarm on the image that it is because these wastes are pollutants. At what point? Do they represent a “danger” for the environment?
These wastes are inherently toxic because they contain hazardous components such as mercury, cadmium or chromium. The 41.8 million tons of waste recorded in 2014, also contained 2.2 million tonnes of harmful components for the environment. It is mainly the chemicals inside the battery problematic. They are difficult to reach but piled up in a landfill, rainwater leaks into them and, gradually, into the surrounding environment. So they pollute the soil directly, but gradually also diffuse these poisons into the streams and waterways. Waste must be carefully managed, including its recycling phase, as they can be as harmful to health.
How is it that waste of this type is so prolific while a number of laws govern this type of waste? What solutions can you foresee to stop this problem?
One solution is by being more mindful about the planned obsolescence of these devices. This process may be good for companies’ profit margins, but it is extremely harmful to the environment and the people who inhabit it. We must consider the product in a comprehensive approach in all stages of his life, recycling the product must be designed from conception to the waste of resources then become like the others.