Whilst we tackle the global issue of plastic pollution in our waters, there’s a new challenge on the horizon, creating what the United Nations calls a “tsunami of e-waste” on land. E-waste is becoming the fastest growing waste stream in the world, with 50 million tonnes generated annually, UN reports. Predicted to double to 100 million tonnes by 2050, urgency is ripe for a solution. And it seems that the tides are taking a turn – with new Right to Repair Laws set to help in fixing the e-waste issue – quite literally.
We’re caught in a dilemma – whereas electronic devices are an important part of reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, they are also a part of the problem. How then, might we strike a balance and tackle the current e-waste issue we face?
E-waste or electronic waste includes equipment that is outdated, broken or simply unwanted.
Over 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually. Imagine having every blue whale currently alive on one side of a scale and then taking the 6.9 million tonnes of e-waste generated by the U.S. in one year alone on the other.
Unfortunately for us and the wales, the e-waste would be heavier.
Or how about taking the combined weight of all commercial aircraft built throughout human history or 4,500 Eiffel Towers – this would be equivalent to the weight of just one year’s worth of the e-waste we generate.
The heaviest contributors include household appliances like irons, washing machines and fridges. But with our love for IoT devices on the rise and connectivity an increasingly dominant aspect of our modern lives, this amount is expected to grow every year.
Here’s a quick breakdown:
Global e-waste in 2020:
- Small equipment including irons, kettles, toasters, etc. 37%
- Large equipment including freezers, fridges, washing machines, dryers, etc. 22%
- Temperature exchange equipment including heaters, air conditioning systems, etc. 17%
- Screens including for PC, TVs etc. 14%
- Small IT including phones, laptops etc. 9%
- Lamps 1%
What’s the big deal?
80% goes to waste
A mere 20% of our e-waste is collected globally. Where does the rest end up? Landfills – at home and in the developing world, where toxic metals harm the environment. This waste can also end up in illegal trade.
30% is lost for good
A significant amount of electronic material is unable to be recovered even when recycled.
Given that some countries also lack national e-waste legislation, e-waste is likely to be treated as general waste – and when electronics pile up in landfills, toxins like lead, mercury, beryllium, brominated flame retardants and cadmium seep into the soil, air and water. And these are as harmful as they sound – forcing many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to work in unsafe working conditions when tasked with mining devices for minerals, materials and parts.
Oftentimes, these workers will not wear or have access to protective equipment and lack the proper awareness that they are handling dangerous materials. The health effects of inhaling toxic chemicals and direct contact with the hazardous materials of e-waste are many. This can cause spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, premature births, reduced birth weights, mutations, congenital malformations, abnormal thyroid function, increased lead levels in the blood, decreased lung function, and neurobehavioral disturbances.
On top of this, the growing amount of electronics and, as a result, e-waste, are creating a scarcity of raw materials, meaning that further damage is done to the environment when trying to source these materials is increasingly difficult places.
And let’s not forget e-waste contributes to toxins being released from mining and manufacturing.
The evidence all points in the same direction: e-waste is bad for all of us. But there are things we can do to mitigate the impacts.
New Right to Repair Laws to the rescue
In October 2019, those of us living in Europe or the UK were made aware of the new Right to Repair standards, meaning that from 2021 onwards firms have had to make applications longer-lasting and supply spare parts for machines for up to a decade.
Manufacturers are also now legally obliged to make spare parts products available to customers.
The items that the new law applies to includes:
- Washing machines
- Electronic displays
- Light sources and separate control gears
- External power suppliers
- Electric motors
- Refrigerators with a direct sales function
- Power transformers
- Welding equipment
New energy efficiency requirements for appliances introduced with the Right to Repair law are also estimated to save consumers an average of £75 annually on bills.
However, whereas Right to Repair Laws cannot tackle our current e-waste issue on their own, they are an important step in the right direction. And it is up to all of us to take action in reducing our individual and collective product waste, reusing our devices or donating them, repairing them and recycling. And if you think repairing is too expensive, iFixit is a great resource to use – boasting free repair guides for multiple devices.
We want to help reduce e-waste across industry
At Machine Compare, we understand the issue of e-waste all too well. Having identified £5B worth of unused, obsolete and surplus electrical and mechanical spare parts across industry sectors, we’re determined to get these back into the market where they belong. Otherwise, spare parts that have never left their original packaging will end up in landfills.
Help us make a difference by choosing to buy unused instead of new. Every part of this journey matters.