Electronic waste, is it a ticking time bomb?

According to reports e-waste (electronic waste) is estimated to reach a record high in 2018.

An estimated 50 million metric tonnes, according to Statista, of toxic e-waste will be produced.

With populations growing and the average life span of electronic goods decreasing, the e-waste that is generated is steadily increasing.

Supermarket pricing has to some degree added to the situation as budget brands on white goods have become un economical to repair with consumers opting to replace rather than investigate the repair which is a shame as often the repair can be as simple as a blocked drain pump.

The up side to this is any recycler that has invested in re-use gain an appliance that can be put back onto the market for very little cost.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) stated that reducing the lifespan of a product companies may drive sales, but this comes at the expense of citizens and the planet. #RightToRepair

The EEB launched a short film today to highlight the problem and urge EU governments to pass proposed laws that would oblige manufacturers to make products more durable and more easily repairable.

The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with around 140 members in over 30 countries.

The Right to Repair and other such campaigns may be the only way in which an environmental disaster can be everted.

Manufactures will need to get on board making products to last rather than designing them to fail in favour of profit.

We as consumers have the power to make a difference by only purchasing appliances that have a reputation for lasting and investing in repairs and performing preventative maintenance. The investment in a more expensive appliance can often work out cheaper in the long run as they are less likely to fail early.

Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, a product policy and circular economy officer with the EEB, said:

“E-waste is the next big environmental challenge in today’s digital society – a time bomb waiting to explode.

As recyclers struggle to deal with the growing amount of waste, our smartphones and white goods are buried in landfills or illegally exported to developing countries where they are often treated in informal or dangerous conditions.

Toxic chemicals contained in these products can easily leak in the environment and have even been found recycled products such as children’s toys.

Manufacturers must embrace eco-design so that the generation of e-waste is minimised in the first place and their products can be easily repaired.”

The EEB joins thousands of activists and independent repairers across the world in celebrating International Repair Day (October 20). Learn more about how we’re fighting for people’s ‘right to repair’.

Key facts

  • Toxic chemicals contained in e-waste may leak in the environment, posing ‘a major threat to human health’ said the United Nations.
  • Flame retardants have been found in children’s toys and consumer goods made from recycled plastics, a new study revealed this week.
  • E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream, accounting for 70% of the toxic waste in US landfills. The United Nations has denounced its improper and unsafe treatment and disposal.
  • Only 20% of global e-waste is recycled. Much of the waste produced in Europe continues to be exported illegally to Africa and Asia, where it is recycled in informal and dangerous conditions.
  • 77% of EU consumers would rather repair their goods than buy new ones (Eurobarometer 2014).
  • Computers, screens, smartphones, tablets and TVs account for half of the global e-waste. The remainder is larger household appliances, heating and cooling equipment or other commercial e-waste.

What are governments and the EU doing?

  • The European Commission has proposed rules for manufacturers to make our gadgets and home appliances more durable and easily repairable. The European Parliament has also urged governments to take those provisions on board as soon as possible.
  • The proposed laws would require that products can be disassembled and reassembled again with designs that allow an easy access to the parts that could break. They would also require manufacturers to make replacement parts, instructions and tools available, while special provisions would improve durability and recycling. For now they mostly concern dishwashers, washing machines, fridges, lights, TVs, displays and servers.
  • EU governments are expected to either accept or reject these laws by the end of the year. Some countries are already set to oppose the proposed laws, NGOs revealed in September.

Will change happen?  Not if big business gets its way

Can we make a difference? Yes, by the way we approach purchases, repairs and reducing the e-waste and waste in general we produce.

Steve Bunyan

Engineer first, trainer 2nd