Although there are significant benefits in becoming more technologically advanced, modernisation has also a significant drawback: Electronic waste. E-waste has and will continue to negatively impact our environmental and human health if companies don’t take action. Here’s how they can address the e-waste crisis.
We see a lot of technology in business. From software and machinery to hardware and the online presence they create, companies are trending toward a more digitally-focused future. As beneficial as it is, technology also incites a significant problem for our environmental and human health.
Before we explore the growing problem of discarded electronics, also known as e-waste, let’s start by talking about the advantages of digitalisation.
Digitalisation Isn’t All Bad for the Environment
Digitalisation has positively affected the environment in many ways.
First and foremost, digital communication methods like emailing have led to reduced paper usage. Letters not only require paper but also fuel for mail trucks that transport the letters and electricity for the facilities that sort them. Emails, on the other hand, are not linked to fuel consumption and take a lot less energy to transmit.
Another example is the rise of smart cities and buildings. Smart homes use internet-connected systems and appliances that are controlled remotely through an app or another device. This setup allows you to manage heating, lighting, and energy use more efficiently, fuelling sustainability.
Finally, digitalisation has given us greater access to information, spreading awareness of sustainability and its importance.
There is an abundance of tips, solutions, and other available data on how to be more sustainable that so many of us are putting to use.
Despite these benefits, the wide-scale move to digital devices is the reason we find ourselves in an e-waste crisis.
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There’s No Denying the E-Waste Crisis
As we create and use more tech devices, we contribute more e-waste to the world.
This is alarming because electronics are produced with dangerous chemicals and metals, such as mercury, lithium, and cadmium. When electronics are not disposed of properly, these toxic components are released into the air. And when humans ingest them, they can negatively affect their liver, brain, heart, and kidneys.
In addition, these toxins can harm the environment. For example, when heavy metals are improperly disposed of in regular landfills, they can seep into the soil, contaminating neighbouring crops and underlying groundwater.
Also, when we do not get rid of electronics responsibly, toxins end up polluting the atmosphere. As mentioned above, this hurts people. But it also damages our ecosystems, water quality, and various plant species.
Thankfully, the world is slowly stepping up to contain the e-waste crisis, starting with governments.
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Governments’ Efforts Have Helped Mitigate the E-Waste Crisis
As important as individual and company efforts are to reduce e-waste, so are those of governments. Implementing nationwide policies that reinforce the reduction of e-waste has proven to be monumental.
In June 2022, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal was approved by universal members across the globe. Some e-waste cannot be shipped to countries that are part of the Convention. This limits where e-waste can go, making it more straightforward to manage. This Convention also regulates the movement and disposal of other hazardous waste such as, “toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic and infectious wastes,” according to the United Nations environment programme (UNEP).
On the other hand, the EU also has its own regulations to manage e-waste. In 2021, the EU enacted a proposition that would require all electronics – such as mobile phones, gaming consoles, keyboards, headphones, etc. – to use the same charging USB-C port and cord. With this action, Big tech companies will produce less nefarious charging cables that inevitably end up in landfills.
Across the pond, the US is a founding member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Thirty-seven other countries joined the country in this forum to promote sustainability, economic growth, and prosperity. Managing e-waste is a top priority for this panel, making it so prior that consent from the panel is required for e-waste to travel to countries between OECD member countries.
E-waste legislation is on the rise worldwide. But companies on both the supply and demand sides of electronics also need to take drastic action to reduce waste in the first place
Companies That Purchase Electronics Can Help Effectively Tackle the E-Waste Crisis
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to incorporate more technology into a business. However, being mindful of e-waste from the beginning is vital to ensure it does not become a problem later on.
1. Purchase Electronics Responsibly
Buying electronics irresponsibly leads to many unused devices that end up as e-waste. Businesses can keep their e-waste piles to a minimum by purchasing electronics responsibly.
Don’t buy any electronics unless you absolutely need them for business purposes. Also, make sure you run purchases by other company leaders to ensure you’re making a sound decision. Dive into details like cost and how the device will make a difference. Then, put the purchase to a vote and honour the results.
2. Put Together a Plan
Any business on the demand side of electronics should have a solid plan for e-waste. If you’re bringing in and using a lot of technology, you know you will eventually have e-waste. So, knowing what you will do with it ahead of time can eliminate the chances of you disposing of it improperly.
First, determine where you will house e-waste. Where do you want employees to dump old, unused, or not working electronic devices? Be sure the area is spacious with good air filtration so that those toxins are not festering in a small space.
Next, create a routine for sorting e-waste. Each device should have a home in recycling, repair, or donation piles. Then, you need to come up with how you’ll carry out the above.
For example, if an electronic device is to be recycled, you might decide to shred it first. Shredding electronics makes it easier to recycle. It can be hard to find a place to recycle large and heavy electronics. You’ll have more options if you shred them first. Shredding is much more cost-effective and secure, too. You can have a mobile shredding truck come by each week to shred your electronic devices. Many of them will then transport it to recycling centres as a part of your contract.
Businesses that develop an intentional e-waste plan can get ahead of this growing problem.
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Electronics Suppliers Can Also Play Their Part
Businesses that supply electronics can also have a hand in reducing e-waste. They should start by reducing excess inventory. It takes energy and resources to make, transport, store, and ship electronics to customers.
Any inventory that is not used is a waste of precious energy and resources which negatively impacts the environment.
Electronics suppliers should look to reduce excess inventory by carefully analysing their safety stock. Forecast thoroughly, calculate your turnover ratio, and dig into your current stock levels.
Also, have a plan for excess stock, whether it be recycling it, storing it more efficiently, or cleaning it out regularly.
While the e-waste crisis is extremely concerning, we can contain it with responsible actions from individuals, government officials, and companies on both the supply and demand sides of electronics.
Featured image by John Cameron on Unsplash
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