After a week pondering how much food we throw away and trying to think up ingenious ways to get my kids to eat their fish fingers and stop wasting food (btw the only thing that I came up with was to move them onto a diet of biscuits and chips….says a lot about my brilliant parenting!) I came across a piece that shifted my attention to e-Waste or WEEE (waste electronic and electrical equipment).
The blog by Lucy Siegle in the Observer asked What is the lifespan of a laptop? This is actually pretty serendipitous for me because the 4 year old laptop from which I’m blogging to you now seems about ready to give up the ghost as it struggles to keep up with my voluminous flowery prose and lightning key strokes. It seems particularly averse to Twitter and does everything in its power to avoid tweeting…..perhaps it’s just not particularly sociable…a bit of a lone wolf…who knows. Anyway, enough rambling McKechnie. The point is that I got thinking about the whole global e-waste problem and decided to remind myself and you good folks of the scale of the problem. So here are some stats that should make your eyes water but in reality will probably just be dismissed with your usual blasé nonchalance. I hope not.
Ok so let’s remind ourselves why e-waste is a problem and all the good stuff that contained in a typical computer or consumer electronic device such as our old friends Arsenic, Antimony (thought this was what you paid the ex?), Beryllium and my personal favourite Lead! I’m sure I’ve missed a few and I’m sure you’ll remind me a few more top toxins that we want leaching into the water table.
In a previous blog post, Lucy provided some background on the origins of minerals and metals used in the production of consumer electronics such as cassiterite, gold, wolframite, cobalt and coltan from the war-torn Congo and neodymium (magnets) and europium (which makes your phone glow), mined in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, a place described as "the apocalypse". Not on my bucket list. There seems to be no end to our insatiable appetite for new gadgets. According to Display Search 245 million new TVs were forecast to ship in 2012 and according to Gartner more than 355 million computers were sold in 2011. However, smartphones top the pile with a forecasted 675 million units in 2012 according to Canaccord Genuity.
So if we are continuing to buy more and more e-stuff then surely we must be throwing away more and more e-waste? Right again Einstein! Not surprisingly global e-waste is piling up at a rate of 40 million tonnes per year with biggest bone pile being generated in the US (and shipped who knows where?) at 3.3 million tonnes and China at 2.6 million tonnes. Take a look at the infographic below from CompuCycle (kharma hamper in the post to you guys).
These guys estimate that a whopping 18% of this stuff is currently being recycled. What’s happening to the rest of it? (Hmmm! I smell a business opportunity…..all I’m saying is that any of you budding e-waste entrepreneurs out there that need recycling software then just remember who planted the seed. You’ll get no more shameless plugs for the best recycling software in the business out of me. That’s for sure. I wouldn’t stoop so low as to callously stuff keywords like recycling software into an otherwise serious, factual and interesting blog post. No siree…not me!)
In all seriousness, how do we put the brakes on this impending calamity? Western culture is based upon the American dream of home, car, 52” LCD TV, iPad….etc etc ownership but the flipside of this dream is currently an environmental nightmare. How do we decouple ourselves from rampant consumerism and realise that the quality of our lives is not directly related to the number and shininess of new gadgets that we have? It’s not a simple challenge. We are placing increasing emphasis on environmental education within schools in the hope that the next generation will have less of an impact on the planet at the same time as we buy our kids the latest and greatest xBox or iphone. I would suggest that we need a combination of education, awareness and dare I say it, a shift in consciousness. Take a read of Jo Confino’s recent blog exploring understanding what is sacred in which he quotes spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh sage words that there is nothing wrong with consumption, only what we consume.
Listen to the 2degrees webinar 'What can your business do to reduce the cost and impact of e-waste'.