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Although electronics have revolutionized how we live, the conveniences of televisions, mobile devices , computers and other household appliances come with a major challenge: E-waste management.
E-waste is a common term for any discarded electrical or electronic equipment. And such waste is a mounting problem that’s becoming harder for countries around the globe to ignore. Although it may seem like an uphill battle, there are organizations and companies that have taken up the challenge.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, a Europe-based international organization for the responsible E-waste management, aims to get a handle on this growing issue through awareness, reductions schemes and policy changes. This is why the WEEE Forum created in 2018 an annual International E-waste Day which, this year, takes place today, October 14.
Honor this upstart day of awareness by reading on to learn some basic facts, why E-waste is a problem we need to confront, and how businesses can begin to make an impact without hurting their bottom line.
According to the UN, the world produced 53.6 million tons of E-waste in 2019. This figure is 21% more than just 5 years prior. The same study projects that by 2030, global E-waste volumes could be over 74 million tons. Looking at the US alone, the country produced 6.92 million tons, a staggering 46 pounds per person, including an estimated 151 million mobile phones.
And while E-waste represents 2% of refuse in American landfills, it makes up 70% of the nation’s toxic waste. This means that while most landfilled trash—like plastic and synthetic textiles—simply takes up space and poses no immediate danger, E-waste is actively poisonous to communities and environments that come in contact with it.
Electronics and electrical appliances contain countless chemical compounds. These range from inert and relatively harmless metals like aluminum alloys and copper to highly toxic materials.
The most dangerous include lead, mercury and cadmium, chromium, and sulphur. Each of these has serious negative effects on human health. These include reduced cognitive function, impaired motor skills, cancer, and organ damage. The threat is especially high for developing children and pregnant women, with experts linking some of these substances to miscarriage and infertility.
Heavy metals may be the most harmful substances that we need to contend with as we address the E-waste problem, but they are certainly not the only cause for concern.
Most every electronic device includes a plastic housing or internal component. Computers, televisions, mobile devices and speakers are just some of the countless electronics built of this persistent stuff. Even the complex circuitry that powers them is printed onto those iconic green circuit boards made of—you guessed it—plastic.
Not only do these materials take hundreds of years to degrade, but they also break off into tiny particles known as microplastics. These particles find their way into soil and wash into our rivers and oceans. There, marine life consumes them. They then travel up the food chain and onto our plates. In fact, microplastics even exist in municipal drinking water around the world.
At this point, we can hardly escape this phenomenon. The effects are not yet fully understood—after all, plastics have only been mass produced for about 70 years. Even so, scientists have reason to believe that these unnatural substances pose a health risk to humans and animals.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we waste a significant amount of valuable materials when we simply throw away electrical and electronic devices.If done safely, there is a real benefit to salvaging electronic components. Properly recycling one million laptop computers saves enough electricity to power 3,500 homes in a year, says the EPA. Further, it says that one million mobile phones contain 35,000 pounds of Copper, 722 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.
The electronics sector would see $12 billion in capital benefits if companies reclaimed all metals they use. But as it stands, systems are not in place to enable this level of recovery. So what’s happening to it all?
Much of it is shipped abroad, raising yet another issue.
Many of us are fortunate to live in clean, well-kept communities, where services collect and hide our trash out of view. The electronics we throw away have to go somewhere, however, and disadvantaged communities and developing nations too often bear this burden. Take the Chinese town of Guiyu for example.
Guiyu is one of the world’s largest E-waste sites. Here, laborers work in the “informal sector” of E-waste recycling, meaning there is hardly any regulation of the safety or efficiency of their methods. They burn E-waste or wash it with harsh chemicals in an effort to free the valuable materials which they sell for cash.
The crude methods they use mean locals can’t help but breathe and consume the toxins mentioned earlier. The land here is all but infertile, the water is undrinkable, the air quality is poor, and 8 in 10 children have elevated lead levels. The situation is similar in Ghana’s Agbogbloshie, and many other cities around the world.
It’s a luxury to forget about the trash we create, but this out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality has a notable socio-economic impact. Reducing that impact means, in part, cutting the rate at which we consume and dispose of electronics.
Unfortunately this is easier said than done, especially when it’s not always in companies’ interest to do so. However, there are ways.
Although the E-waste problem is one that will take a great deal of research and planning to address in full, there are ways that businesses can begin to make a difference today. And even better is that it doesn’t have to come at a cost to your business.
One great way to make an impact lies in leveraging the circular economy. The phrase “circular economy” refers to a model of production and consumption built on, among other practices, repairing, repurposing, reusing, refurbishing, and reselling excess goods to extend their lifecycle. The implications for the environment are easy to understand—more goods in use means less goods in landfills. Additionally, leaning on this model can save both consumers and retailers money.
If you’re a manufacturer or retailer, you’re constantly trying to calculate how much stock to produce or purchase to keep your business flowing. If you have too little, you’re leaving money on the table. Too much, and you’re burdened with moving and storing the excess.
Consider, too, what to do with your returned merchandise. Remarketing it often isn’t economical due to the cost of inspecting, repackaging, reshelving, and tracking it all. Businesses need a way to quickly and efficiently clear out overstock, trade-ins, and returns in bulk. B-Stock is here to help.
Instead of trashing unsold inventory or offloading it to traditional liquidators for pennies, B-Stock helps auction it. A network of hundreds of thousands of buyers is eager to give you top dollar for your excess merchandise. That means that in just one step, you’ll clear warehouse space, recover costs, and supply the circular economy. Is is there that your products can find their way into the hands of consumers that will use them.
Forward-thinking organizations like WEEE are taking the lead on finding lasting solutions to the E-waste problem. But that doesn’t mean your company shouldn’t do its part. It’s a step worth considering, as it benefits your business, the secondary market, and the planet.