Wednesday June 19, 2024

Electronic waste

By Editorial Board
July 08, 2020

Human beings around the world discarded 53 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2019, an amount that weighs as much as all the humans of Europe put together. The e-waste means more precious minerals including gold have to be mined to meet the demand for replacement products while some of the waste which includes tossed away smartphones, computers and electronic car parts also present a potential threat to the environment and human health as they degrade. The UN has said that materials worth more than $55 billion are being wasted each year and there has been a 20 percent increase in just five years.

This makes e-waste one of the biggest waste issues in the world. One of the problems is that devices are being replaced more quickly than ever before, often because of their shorter lifespans or the pressures of consumerism. There is also a lack of infrastructure for the e-waste problem. Asia generated the largest volume of e-waste in 2019, with 24.9 million tonnes, followed by the Americas and then Europe. The problem is one that seems likely to continue to grow. A global mechanism to recycle e-waste could possibly help, but would need to be set in place quickly and in a fashion that would encourage consumers of these goods to utilize it. At present, people simply feel there is no option but to discard used products including refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances as well as computers or phones. The number of these devices is growing rapidly around the world. This means the problem of disposal will increase too and become a further source of pressure on the planet and its systems as human demand pushes it towards destruction.

It is notable that compared to Europe and the Americas, waste from Africa and Oceania is negligible. The problem then is one linked also to wealth and purchasing power. In the past, there have been reports of dumped computers deposited in areas that include the coasts of Pakistan leaking radioactive waste. The problem is an immense one. In poorer countries, many of these items are recycled far more commonly than is the case in the West. Perhaps in this case, the West could learn from the poorer nations of the world and develop systems where discarded phones or other devices could be recycled and used by those unable to buy their own and computers put to use at underprivileged schools and zones where children from low-income groups acquire their education.