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The effects of e-waste and what can be done to drive positive change

July 11, 2019

As technology continues to become increasingly central to our lives, e-waste (electronic waste) is becoming extremely damaging to our environment.

Year on year the volume of e-waste has increased steadily and shows no sign of decreasing to sustainable standards without intervention across all levels of public and private life. In 2018 alone, 49.8 million metric tons of e-waste was collected worldwide. That’s the equivalent to the weight of around 5,000 Eiffel Towers of electronic equipment discarded in one single year.

The direct and indirect effect of e-waste on our environment is staggering. Starting at the manufacturing stage, the power and resources needed to produce more products to replace those disregarded as e-waste is putting a strain on the planets resources and driving emissions. The disposal of equipment, whether either crudely dumped or sent to landfill, bears no positives for the future of our planet and our ‘throw-away’ relationship with technology in general needs to change.

For years, manufacturing companies and big brands have targeted consumers with the message that you must keep up with the latest technology to stay relevant and have access to the best services, and have even been reported to have actively restricted services on older models of electronic equipment in order to force consumers to upgrade (a system known as planned obsolescence).

This mentality continues to have a detrimental effect on our health and our planet and is something that must change in order to find a balance between technological benefits and the harmful effects to our health, the planet and life in general.

What can be done?

There are many things that we can do slow and potentially reverse the current damaging effects of e-waste. From the manufacturers that develop the products to the consumers that use them, as a collective we can make fundamental changes to our technology use that will have positive effects.

Understanding your products

One of the most fundamental mistakes that people make when disposing of electronic equipment is that they do so because they think it has no further function. It may be damaged and no longer work as it should, but this does not mean the individual parts are no longer functional or that the product can’t be easily repaired.

On the contrary, the majority of faulty e-waste products are made up of many individual components, each with their own function and life-span. It is true that when interconnected within a product, the failure of one of these components may lead to a loss in functionality of the overall product, however the faulty component could be repaired and replaced, or the working components recycled back into manufacturing new equipment.

This is not to say that people should never make product upgrades, however having the awareness that there is value in faulty products that goes beyond core functionality is vital. Whether perceived as a good or a bad thing, it can be argued that replacing equipment is cheaper and easier for consumers than the time needed to send it for repair. And for some people this may be true. However, there are many companies that will pay good money to take your faulty products away and either repair and resell them or break them down into their individual components and resell back to manufacturers.

Manufacturer responsibility

Manufacturers need to take responsibility for their part in the damage caused by e-waste. Aggressive marketing of new products, limiting old technology and operating non-sustainable practices are all poor practices by big organisations looking to make money fast with little respect for the environment.

Manufacturers need to realise that consumer mindsets are changing and people will not continue to buy from companies that are not doing their part in reducing climate change and building sustainable practices. This year (2019), a survey over 4,000 residents, carried out BEIS in the UK, found that 80% of respondents where either concerned or very concerned about climate change.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the manufacturers are the sole driver in generating e-was through new product production, however manufacturing is led by consumer demand and changes in the behaviour of the masses can have a big effect on these processes.

From a telecommunications perspective

In the telecommunications industry, service providers need to keep on top of the demands of their customers to ensure a profitable business model. Actively growing and expanding networks by implementing new technologies and building on existing infrastructure is fundamental process for operators in this competitive market. With this need to constantly implement technology in towns, cities and rural areas all around the world, it would be easy to assume that there were limited things that could be done to benefit the environment. But this is not true.

Telecommunication service providers and end-users are perfectly placed to drive the reduction of e-waste and emissions across all levels of use.

Unlike many other products, operator-level telecommunications equipment is designed to last a very long time and often modular in design. This means that parts can easily be repaired and replaced when faulty as well as resold back into the market when no longer required.

Telecom service providers all around the world have varying levels of service available to their clients and are more and less established in different countries. This means that the variation in equipment is huge. Products originally implemented in one country ten years ago may be perfect for an emerging market in another company, so when equipment is ready to be deinstalled for an upgrade, it can easily be reused elsewhere.

Whether equipment is in good working order, needs repairs or refurbishment or no longer functioning, companies like Carritech offer the services needed to get it back into the market and away from landfill.

Conclusion

More needs to be done across all industries in all sectors to tackle the damaging effects of e-waste on our environment. There are clear ways that we can make sustained changes to do this, from top-level manufacturing to consumer habits and general understanding of our products, it is vital that these changes happen for the sake of a common global goal: reducing and reversing the effects of climate change.

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