Before electronics became involved in almost everything we do on a daily basis, it used to be that e-waste recycling was only on the radar for a few types of businesses.
But if you’re responsible for lowering your organization’s carbon footprint, then you know that the amount of e-waste your organization produces every day is something that can’t be ignored any longer.
Consider the fact that, ever year, 50 million tons of used electronics is generated throughout the world.
A new report from the U.N. gives us more details about the growing problem of e-waste.
According to the report by the United Nations University, the International Telecommunications Union and the International Solid Waste Association, the world’s e-waste grew by 8% since 2014. What’s more, the amount of e-waste generated each year is expected to continue to grow in the years to come.
The following statement in the report from Antonis Mavropoulos, President of the International Solid Waste association, sums up why no person or business can afford to ignore the risks caused by improperly disposing of used electronics:
“We live in a time of transition to a more digital world, where automation, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming industry and society. E-waste is the most emblematic by-product of this transition and finding the proper solutions for e-waste management is a measure of our ability to utilize the technological advances to stimulate a sustainable future and to make the circular economy a reality.”
Before we can go into the solutions (and there are many that businesses, in particular, can implement), let’s recap what we know about e-waste.
What Is E-Waste?
Electronic waste includes all discarded electric or electronic devices with battery power or circuitry or electric elements.
This includes mobile phones, television sets, computers and printers, as well as servers and switches, networking equipment, test equipment, fiber optics and medical imaging equipment.
In the U.S. alone, 5 million tons of e-waste is disposed of, but less than 14% of all e-waste is recycled. Although recycling numbers continue to rise year after year, more e-waste ends up in our landfills than is being recycled.
When e-waste ends up in a landfill, it creates all kinds of health and environmental problems because used electronic equipment can contain up to 60 elements from the periodic table, as well as flame retardants and other toxic chemicals.
Not to mention, if your business is caught dumping e-waste into the landfill—either directly or indirectly—you’re looking at huge fines that can be detrimental to your reputation.
The latest U.N. report predicts that e-waste will continue to increase by an additional 17% by 2021. This is bad news for the planet and the developing countries where much of the e-waste gets illegally dumped—unless more organizations pay attention to the issue.
Global and Regional E-waste Trends
Just take a look at some of the trends we’ve been seeing over the last five to 10 years as rapid advances in technology continue to create a demand for “must-have” new products that make many electronics obsolete before the end of their useful life:
One study done by the Basel Action Network (BAN) placed GPS trackers in old obsolete electronics like computers and cell phones and traced where the e-waste traveled. It was shown that 34% of the more than 200 items tracked in the U.S. moved offshore, and almost all of it ended up being dumped in developing countries in Asia.
While we as a country know the impact of improperly disposing of e-waste, the U.S. still doesn’t have national legislation in effect regarding e-waste and it is left up to individual states to pass regulations. As of 2016, 15 states still don’t have legislation in effect, including Alabama, Ohio and Massachusetts.
The U.S. has the dubious distinction of not only being near the top when it comes to the most total e-waste generated but also when it comes to the amount produced per person.
What Can Be Done About the Growing Problem of E-Waste?
While it might seem like the U.N. report just leaves us with a lot of doom and gloom, there is some hope as a growing number of countries—and businesses in them—are waking up to the true impact this waste has on our daily lives.
There is now a growing number of countries adopting e-waste legislation. Right here in the U.S., in our great state of California, legislators have adopted e-waste laws and regulations that are of the strongest in the country and also used as examples that other countries are mimicking.
This momentum is good because, in the age of technology, there is hardly a corner of the world that has not been touched by the effects of electronics and their waste byproducts.
The next logical step, the report points out, is to come up with better ways of measuring and collecting data on e-waste, locally and globally, in a uniform way.
Why Businesses Need to Care
Here’s one of the main things we’ve discovered after spending more than 10 years in the e-waste management industry: When businesses are focused solely on profit margins and not keeping track of their true carbon footprint, they often lose sight of the bigger impact the company can make.
If a business doesn’t make it a priority to know where its e-waste is ending up, then, in reality, the business is not making progress.
Oftentimes, businesses are simply unaware of the severity of the problem when they don’t keep track of where their used electronics end up. In some cases, there are still some companies that choose to ignore the ugly stain on their business (but that doesn’t include anyone reading this, right?).
That’s why Surplus Service offers zero waste reporting, which is a win-win for any organization looking to make a visible difference on its carbon footprint.
Key takeaway: It is undeniable that e-waste has a huge impact on the environment throughout the world. But each business can slow down the negative effects and take steps now to protect the planet and their bottom line by making proper e-waste disposal a business priority.
Surplus Service is a San Francisco, CA Bay Area-based award-winning e-waste management business that specializes in ITAD, medical recycling, electronic liquidation, reverse logistics and data eradication. As the No. 1 electronic reuse and recycling leader, our goal is to provide eco-friendly solutions that lead to the reuse of electronics rather than just having them recycled or end up in a landfill. To learn more about us, call one of our e-waste recycling specialists at (510) 226-0600 or email us at Info@SurplusService.com.