It’s time to take out the garbage
‘OUT with the old, in with the new’, has been the motto of many tech and gadget companies in recent years, with a slew of new smartphones, tablets, pc’s and wearables being released on a monthly basis now.
In such a highly competitive industry, manufacturers are compelled to keep up with rivals or risk obsolescence and the demise of their company.
In many instances, smaller companies compete with the larger ones not by matching the quality of their components, but instead by creating ‘budget’ models, designed to be purchased cheaply and tossed out if they break or malfunction.
But this constant demand for ‘bigger and better’ is having a significant environmental impact when it comes to the waste disposal of the old products, particularly in East and South-East Asia.
According to a study of 12 countries by United Nations University, China was the the biggest culprit, with their waste of electronic gadgets more than doubling between 2010 and 2015, and 12 countries combined had a waste total of 12.3 million tonnes combined in 2015.
This significant increase in waste has been largely attributed to rising incomes in Asia, a burgeoning population growth of young adults, and, of course, manufacturers releasing new products so rapidly.
“Consumers in Asia now replace their gadgets more frequently. WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH: Electronic waste management is fast becoming a serious environmental and health issue in parts of Asia. In addition, many products are designed for low-cost production, but not necessarily repair, refurbishment or easy recycling,” said the study.
The study urged the countries to enact specific laws to control and manage the waste of electronic goods, finding that only South Korea, Taiwan and Japan had established recycling systems since the 1990s.
Along with the impact to the environment, the study found that in countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia, unsafe waste disposal practices - such as the burning of plastics, and the open dumping of mercury and lead components - were the norm.
Practices such as these are associated with multiple health problems, including infertility, liver and kidney damage, and inheritable genetic damage.
Along with the official waste management systems often being unsafe, backyard salvaging is a common practice, often using crude acid baths to extract precious metals from the devices and components, which release harmful chemicals into the air.
Asia is the biggest market for consumer electronics, accounting for almost half of global sales by volume.
“We are all benefiting from the luxury of these electrical and electronic products to a certain extent, it makes our lives easier, sometimes more complicated,” said Ruediger Kuehr, one of the study’s authors.
“However, if we want to continue like this we must be reusing the resources contained in electronic and electrical equipment.
“A smartphone, for example, uses more than half the elements in the periodic table, some of which are very rare, and in the longer-run will be exhausted without recycling.”