Are you throwing away your functioning electronic devices into the trash, replacing it with a new device with added features? Hold on with that thought and let’s look at its destiny.
According to the United Nations E-waste Coalition, e-waste comprises of electronic or electrical components which have reached their end of life or even sometimes perfectly reusable components. Let’s consider the best case where the device is disposed of following the valid protocol and goes to a recycling factory. A deeper look at the device tells us that it’s made up of more than 1000 different substances with 60 different elements from the periodic table of which 18 are recoverable. Only 20% of it is dealt with and processed while the rest is unattended. The elements that are extracted back include gold(7% of the world’s gold is held into these), silver, indium and palladium.
The big picture is that the world generated 50 million tons of e-waste in 2018, which comes to approximately 6 kilograms per person. To put things into perspective, if all the e-waste was stocked up in a single nation it would be of the size of Kenya! This is comparable to 125,000 jumbo jets, more than all the commercial aircraft ever created. Although E-waste represents only 2% of solid waste streams, it is 70% of the hazardous waste that ends up in landfills. The UN University (UNU) predicts that this could nearly triple to 120 million tons by 2050.
Seelampur is the largest e-waste dismantling market in India. Each day, truckloads of e-waste are dumped for thousands of kabadiwalas or raddiwalas to extract reusable components. The process involves acid burning and open incineration with toxic gases being the byproducts of the process, having severe health and environmental consequences.
This issue needs to be addressed by us unless we have plans to escape to Mars in the near future. This calls for the need to build a sustainable, circular economy where the value of the components and materials is kept constant. The wastes from one industrial sector could be used as raw materials for another if carefully done. This will yield readily available raw materials and has the possibility to create sustainable jobs. This benefits manufacturers and also consumers as this could reduce the costs for consumers by 7% by 2030 improving working conditions for laborers at the same time. For every 10,000 tons of computer waste processed, reusing or recycling can create 296 more jobs per year compared to the status quo which is of disposal in landfills or by incineration.
Now, what is your role in this? We as consumers need to be collectively aware of the consequences of our actions which contribute to climate change. If you are buying a new device, think twice whether you really need this? Re-purpose and re-evaluate. Store data online that reduces your carbon footprint. Buy energy star rated electronics so that they not only save electricity but usually last longer. The least that one could do is to Spread the Word! I hope this knowledge and awareness encourages us to become more responsible human beings.
Are you doing your part?