Technology recycling is big business. There are many components inside devices that can be reused, and harvested for profit. There is legislation in western countries that protects the environment from people throwing away their devices such as old tv’s and computers. They can usually be disposed of correctly by the local council, or the seller of the device must take back the old version, and submit it to recycling premises themselves. There is of course a number of charities that promote good recycling practises among households and business too.
The University of Michigan holds an annual recycling event every April. The university partners with Apple Computers for the event, and since its inception 8 years ago, it has had an ever increasing turnout of community members arriving to unload their old electronics, and collected over 1,600 tons of electronics. Barb Hagan who is a representative of the university’s campus sustainability department, is the organizer of the annual event. She comments that they hope that the 2015 collection point at Pioneer High School will see even more visitors than 2014. The stats speak for themselves, people do want to protect and care for the environment, especially with regards to their electronic waste. There were over 5,000 cars that passed through the e-waste recycling event last year, and this equated to more than 200 tons of electronics that they managed to collect in. The most popular items were the large big tube TV’s and people who arrived didn’t have to even leave their cars, with volunteers on hand to remove the items.
What happens to E-waste?
You might wonder what actually happens to electronics waste that is collected? There are 2 approaches to e-waste recycling. One approach is to actually just refit and re-use the devices and sell or pass them on to third world countries or local charities. This normally happens with mobile phones, laptops, and PC’s. Sometimes devices are opened for spare parts, and re-used with refitted to new devices that might have a fault. There are lots of charities and business operating a successful refurbishment model such as this. Old TV’s are not much use to anyone with the low cost of LCD tv’s now, so the approach to recycle items such as this are slightly different. They mostly go into a series of large shredders, where they are chopped up into small pieces,and then split up depending what component it is, plastics or metal.
Laws in western countries are becoming more and more strict with regards to the disposal of e-waste in and around cities.
The goal is to remove the harmful chemicals found inside electronics from the environmental landfill cycle. Colorado signed into law an electronic waste law in 2012, that saw 17 states at the time prohibiting e-waste in landfills. The number has since risen to 20. Bans are usually applicable to computers, computer monitors and peripherals, as well as cell phones & televisions. In europe there is a new law introduced by the European Parliament in 2014, that obliges member states to collect 45 tonnes of e-waste for every 100 tonnes put on sale, by 2016. Towards 2019 this is expected to rise to 65 tonnes. Member states can also opt to collect 85% of the total e-waste that is generated instead of these targets. Even China has introduced measures for the correct disposal of waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
Who is responsible?
As part of the many laws being introduced to combat e-waste, manufacturers are being given a primary role in handling the collection of their previously sold goods from customers, and ensuring these electrical devices are recycled correctly. Its not just small computer electronics, its also white goods such as washing machines and fridges. Many countries are introducing as part of their laws on e-waste the responsibility on larger electronic and goods stores to accept WEEE from people, even if they are not planning on purchasing from their store. This is bringing the main responsibility to sellers and manufacturers, which is a valuable approach to reducing the e-waste from landfills.
The Basel Convention has seen a reduction in the amount of e-waste that is shipped from developed countries outside of their borders to developing nations. Still There are many developing nations that are quickly getting access to technology, yet are not putting any adequate recycling measure in place to dispose of this new developing mountain of e-waste. Once such place where e-waste is disposed directly into landfills is in Ghana. In the city of Accra they have a place where e-waste and rubbish is dumped without regard named Agbogbloshie. It is a vast burning graveyard of broken electronics, computers, and white goods rubbish like refrigerators. Its known for its scavengers who surviving on next to nothing because of poor economic conditions, scour the land for reusable components from the discarded waste. They risk their lives and their health to dig up components and burn various plastics to get access to the metallic components that are inside. Even children as young as 7 are part of the scavengers who make their living from this discarded electronic wasteland. There are so many computer monitors that the children have built a bridge over a part of the wetlands with the monitors.
Future of E-waste
E-waste disposal doesn’t seem to be slowing, especially in developed countries. According to United Nations University report, there has been a total of 16 million tons of electronic waste discarded in 2014. Less than 1/6th of this was properly reused or recycled. Globally e-waste is expected to reach more than 55 million tons by 2018, with China and the United States producing the most. They make up for 32% of the global e-waste total.