It’s time to take out the garbage

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Northeast Jobs - WITH CHRIS FEBVRE,

‘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.”

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