The e-waste problem we don’t talk about
By Azrul Abas April 7, 2021
Do you really need all that?
Take a look around you and see the amount of electronic devices you own - the smartphone you’re using to scroll this, the smartwatch on your wrist, and the laptop you’re using to do your work. With our lives so integrated with technology, it’s almost impossible to imagine functioning without any of these devices. But have you ever wondered what happens to these devices once they become obsolete and disposed of?
That’s a lot of trash
The global E-waste Monitor 2020 reported that a record high of 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste was generated last year with its raw materials contained being valued at about $57 billion.
And yes, these include the cracked iPhone screens and faulty MacBook batteries that piles up the trash. In 2019 alone, 53.6 billion kg of e-waste was generated - this has gone up by 21% within 5 years and only 17.4% of it was collected and recycled. In contrast, we throw away significantly greater amounts of other waste such as paper and plastics, so why the focus on e-waste then?
Dangers of e-waste
Electronic devices are full of toxic materials such as rare earth and heavy metals found in batteries and screens. If not handled properly, they are detrimental to both humans and the environment. Long-term exposure can affect the nervous system and the internal organs. Hence, with e-waste not being biodegradable, the impact is permanent and irreversible.
In fact, the manufacture of the devices alone accounts for the environmental degradation. According to Apple’s own environmental data, a single iPhone 12 life cycle results in 70 kg of carbon emissions, with 83% of it results from its production. This was seen in 2018 where 218 million iPhones were sold with almost 17 billion kg of carbon dioxide produced. Yes, 17 billion kg.
Road to Sustainability
So as consumers, what can we do now?
Well for starters, resist the temptation to buy new devices every time there’s a minor issue with your device. Majority of these fixes are repairable and would only cost a fraction of the total cost.
Issues such as cracked screens and weak batteries can be easily fixed either by purchasing the parts and repairing it or finding an expert to do so. For example, a MacBook Air battery replacement can be done in just 10 steps as shown here in our guide.
As for newer models, more often than not, the functionality and improvements of these models are minimal as compared to previous ones that it’s almost pointless to purchase a newer model every time it’s out.
In addition, practice good device usage habits on a daily basis. This is so that the devices can last as long as possible, without it being having to replace every now and then. As they say, prevention is better than cure!
And it doesn’t stop there!
Knowing how to prevent it is not enough - proper education on e-waste management as well as proper disposal should be taught and encouraged more.
Firstly, more e-waste bins should be made available to prevent users from throwing away used electronic devices carelessly into normal trash bins. Not a lot of people are actually aware of this and would just assume that normal bins are perfectly fine to dispose of their old iPhones.
Secondly, businesses should be encouraged to participate in any relevant recycling programmes that are voluntarily offered by industry stakeholders. Alternatively, they can also contact their equipment supplier or OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) to do so.
Thirdly, extend producer responsibility to companies and manufacturers responsible for the management and disposal of their own electronic products. For example, Hong Kong, the world’s dumping ground for electronic waste, deals with 77,000 tons of e-waste annually. It has just instituted a producer responsibility system that will require suppliers and sellers of electronic products to pay for the free removal, collection, handling and proper disposal of items.
What can I do as an individual?
So next time you feel the urge to get a new iPhone, ask yourself, do you actually really need it? Or can you actually get your old one fixed and repaired?
Everyone has a part to play in tackling this issue. Be it reusing your old iPad by getting it’s battery fixed, reducing the manufacturing and production of newer iPhone models or even recycling the used MacBook that you have used for years.
This e-waste issue is definitely something not talked about a lot but should definitely be on the mind of every consumer.