International E-Waste Day

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Content

Today is the International E-Waste Day, a day that has been celebrated since 2018 in order to raise awareness about the problems posed by the growth of this type of waste and the need to increase its recycling.

Technology has entered our lives as an essential part of our daily lives, with millions of electronic products flooding our planet. The consumption of this type of devices is growing more and more, and with it its renewal and waste generation. To get an idea, the total weight (excluding photovoltaic panels) of world consumption of electrical and electronic equipment increases on average annually by about 2.5 million tons. [1] 

  

E-waste generation 

When an electronic product reaches its end of lifemany things can happenThe reality is that their short life cycles and low repair rate have meant thattogether with their high consumptionthe number of electronic waste grows at unstoppable speeds. 

The world generated a staggering of 53.6 million tons of e-waste in 2019, an average of 7.3 kg per capita. Global generation of this waste grew 9.2 million tons since 2014 and is projected to grow to 74.7 million tons by 2030, almost doubling in just 16 years. [1] 

Generación mundial residuos electrónicos

The previous image shows the absolute amounts of ewaste generated by continent, and it is important to study the same amounts in terms of generation per capita. Europe ranks first with 16.2 kg per capita, Oceania ranks second with 16.1 kg per capita, followed by America with 13.3 kg per capita, while Asia and Africa generate much lower figures, 5.6 and 2.5 kg per capita respectively. [1]

 

Recycling 

Recycling activities are not keeping up with the global growth of e-waste. In 2019, formally documented collection and recycling was 9.3 million tons, that is only 17.4% of the total generated e-waste. [1] 

Electronic waste often contains precious metals such as gold, copper, and nickel, as well as high-value rare materials such as indium and palladium. Many of these metals can be recovered, recycled, and reused. But the great challenge is in the complexity of doing this, as a product can be made up of hundreds of different substances. It should also be noted that, although ewaste may represent only 2% of solid waste streams, it can represent 70% of hazardous waste that ends up in landfills. Approximately up to 60 elements from the periodic table can be found in complex electronic components, of which many are technically recoverable [2]. But it must also be considered that many of these resources have very limited availability, making it difficult to maintain the level of consumption that exists today. This, together with the serious environmental and social impacts that its extraction causes, makes recovery, recycling and reuse more than an option, an inevitable path that we must follow. 

Recycling statistics show that in 2019 the continent with the highest collection and recycling rate was Europe, with 42.5%. Asia ranked second with 11.7%, America and Oceania were very similar with 9.4% and 8.8%, respectively, and lastly Africa had the lowest rate with 0.9%. [1] 

  

Electronic dumps

The destination of 82.6% (44.3 million tonnes) of the e-waste generated in 2019 is uncertain, and its whereabouts and environmental impact vary in different regions. In developed countries there are waste recycling infrastructures, but a considerable amount of ewaste is still exported illegally or under the pretext of being reused. 

Agbogbloshie Ghana río vertedero electrónico

 

There are several assumptions about the volume of cross-border movements of e-waste. Specifically, there are several investigations with tracking devices installed in various equipment, which have shown that some leave the legal circuit and end up in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Pakistan, Thailand, India or China. Through various studies carried out by the Basel Action Network, it is estimated that approximately 6% of ewaste is exported in the European Union each year to developing countries, in Canada approximately 12%, in the US 34%, and in Australia 8%. 

The Basel Convention [3] forbids the export of ewaste to countries where it has not been generated. However, an important part of the waste generated in developed countries ends up in developing countries where there are no means for its correct processing. 

One of the problems resides in the scarcity of audits and the complexity to control compliance with this agreement. In many cases, waste is declared as second-hand material, being hidden with better-looking devices in containers where only a small part of the visible products are checked, or internally hidden in exported vehicles. In addition, once it has arrived in the destination country, returning it involves a high cost and the interests for both parties are also high. 

What is garbage for developed countries is a valuable resource for other countries. Agbogbloshie is one of the largest electronic dumps in the world, in Ghana (Accra). Urban mining, where resources are extracted from this waste, is the daily life of many people. But ewaste is toxic, it is not biodegradable and it accumulates in the environment, also having an adverse impact on health. 

In Agbogbloshie many people disassemble, among other things, screens, computers, televisions and household appliances to resell components and obtain the metals considered the most valuable part. Cables, coils and various electronics are also burned to extract and sell copper, aluminium and other metals by weight. On the other hand, they sometimes manage to repair products and then resell them in the markets. 

Agbogbloshie Ghana vertedero electrónico quema cables

Agbogbloshie is a huge centre of circular economy. But the big problem lies in social and environmental conditions. It not only has a serious impact on the health of the people who earn a living in the landfill (some of them children), the inhabitants of the city, the adjacent vegetable market, the animals that eat from the landfill, etc. [4] but it is also an environmental disaster that has led to Agbogbloshie becoming one of the most polluted soils on the planet. [5] [6] 

  

Conclusions 

The levels of consumption of electronics, the little reuse through repair, and the low recycling rate, cause the number of e-waste to increase every year. 

It is necessary to go towards a model in which products and services do not mean more waste, and end the linear economy to take a step towards a circular economy where the 4Rs are applied (reduce, repair, reuse and recycle). 

In fact, e-waste has great value; it is estimated that at least 62.5 billion dollars annually [2], which exceeds the GDP of many countries, and in the coming years could be worth more due to the allocation of products. Allocation derived from the overexploitation of natural resources, increasingly limited and in demand. 

On the other hand, new changes in technology such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), or the business models of electronics such as leasing services, could have the potential to dematerialize and boost the circular economy. 

It is necessary to promote the circular economy through audited regulations for compliance, supporting the sector with appropriate policies. Reconsider e-waste, reappraise the electronics industry, and rethink the system for the benefit of consumers, manufacturers, workers, society, their health, and the environment.

So it is essential that the end-of-life phase is considered from the first stage of product design. As we mentioned in one of our blog posts in which we talked about designing to last, engineering requires an optimized design to promote sustainable technology, which is one of the keys of TEKHNĒ design.

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