Electronic Product Design

Tuesday, 12 August 2014 00:00 Written by

electronic wasteElectronic Waste Part III

We arrive at the third segment of the ongoing E-Waste blog series, having previously explored the lack of provision by electronics companies to fix your own devices and a handful of Instructables of how to upcycle your own electronics waste. The sentiment offered in each of these articles is somewhat simple: environmental sustainability is achievable!

From our last outing regarding e-waste there have been several interesting developments to update you with, largely concerning the slow western wake up to the massive environmental issue being created throughout a number of countries. A number of governments throughout Europe, as well as the United States, are realising the unsustainable nature of the current system. Adding to this are several of the major electronics technology producers, also aware of the damage that their products are visiting upon individuals in a number of countries.

Already we are seeing several US states implement legislature designed to restrict the volume of waste leaving its shores, whereas California has an e-waste recycling tax system applied to the purchase of almost any new monitor or television that ensures when the device is ‘dead,’ it is affordably recycled. Across Europe, the WEEE Directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) set targets to collect and recycle a minimum of 4kg of e-waste per head, though unfortunately the directive has been amended several times due to missing numerous targets.

Agencies are in place. Directives offer opportunities for increased waste collection, with payments received for weight of waste recycled. But still waste products stream into the unlicensed e-waste dumps situated around the globe. Perhaps one of the single largest problems approaching the e-waste sector is regulation from both Western and localised governments. Rather than approaching the waste as a massive problem, many suggest realising the waste as a potential resource, regulating workers to ensure access to safety equipment, healthcare opportunities and unified pay for everything they collect, rather than just specific materials. It is the latter than can cause some of the biggest issues: collectors working specifically for copper simply burn the coatings from the wire and ‘avoid’ the toxic fumes – a dangerous system that simply does not work.

However, many of the largest electronics technology companies are fully aware of the issues facing the growing number of countries receiving tonnes of waste per day. Recognising that a large proportion of the e-waste issue lies at their doors, many larger corporations are either arranging for precious metal recovery at designated sites, or working alongside governments in existing e-waste dumping grounds to ensure developing countries are not further exploited. As stated in the article, it only takes one country to lead the way and others will follow suit.

The larger corporations whose products comprise the lion’s share of the dumping grounds also realise that this is an important exercise in PR, with many consumers (though sharing a pretty large share of the blame game themselves) shocked at the nature of e-waste. The onus therefore falls upon them not only too assist in regulation for the e-waste market, but also to ensure that consumers are educated about their e-waste recycling opportunities closer to home. There can be any number of informative symbols lurking on the back of a given piece of electronics packaging, but without substantial education directives from profit turning organisations, e-waste will continue to be an issue at home and abroad.

Image courtesy of: anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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