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The Global Problem of Electronic Waste

In Zero Waste

 

Are you waiting for the new I-phone launch this year? Does its new design or features tempt you to buy new? Did you know your old phone is considered electronic waste also known as e-waste? E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Consumers need to be aware of where the products we buy end up. Denise Fernandes discovered the real impact of our compulsion to purchase more and electronics driven by the industry’s approach of built in obsolescence.

Increasing consumerism is a result of planned obsolescence, that is when products are designed NOT to last.

Electronics today are being designed to reduce service life. Planned obsolescence has forced consumers to replace their new electronics sooner. It is cheaper to purchase new than repairing and industry makes us do this. The shelf life of electronic products is 6 months and then it goes to the landfill. Bill Morris, co-founder and CEO of Bluestar recyclers says this is a growing problem around the world.

“Starting in the early 2000s, manufacturers began to make items that were not repairable. The way manufacturers designed them is that if they quit working or they become obsolete, there’s no way to get them working for a reasonable price, so it’s actually cheaper to buy a new one. And that was a very new thing because prior to about 2002, most of us if we had an electronic item that quit working, we would take it in and have it repaired. They say now that manufacturers design for the dump.” — Bill Morris.

43 million tons of e-waste which is around 4500 Eiffel Towers is produced in the world annually. 7 million tons are here in the US alone. Even though the number of recycling facilities have increased, legislation and policy has not caught up and only 20% is recycled ethically. Much of the electronic waste generated in the US actually ends up in another country.

The export of hazardous waste has been banned under the Basel Convention Treaty. But developed countries like the US still continue to dump their e-waste into developing countries despite the global ban on this. Just in 2017, the UN estimates, around 50 million tons of e-waste primarily smartphones and computers was predicted to be dumped out of that 90% was dumped illegally in countries like India. Satish Sinha, Associate Director of Toxics Link, an organization that works on e-waste dumping in New Delhi, India says that in India, most of the recycling takes place in the informal sector which has no licenses, environmental protection measures or safety regulations.

“A huge amount of waste was coming from outside and it was being camouflaged under the garb of various things…they were passing the burden of recycling from their own countries and they were putting it on the most poor people.” — Satish Sinha.

Working in this sector are some of the most marginalized and discriminated communities. Environmental degradation of e-waste recycling is huge but the health impacts in this sector are alarming. People working in the informal sector are exposed to chemical toxins and injury.

In Boulder, fix-it clinics are held in the community to teach people how to repair electronics. Dan Matsch from Ecocyle’s Center for Hard To Recycle Materials says this is part of an effort to extend the life of certain electronics and keep them out of the waste stream.

“So this is a way to reexamine this linear flow from manufacturing to landfill and how can we make use of this stuff for a little bit longer?” — Dan Matsch.

So listeners through whichever platform your listening to this podcast, it will become e-waste one day. What are you going to do about this-purchase new, recycle ethically or repair?

 

KGNU is partnering with Eco-Cycle in a year long series on zero waste issues, funded by a grant from Boulder County.

 

Listen to the full report here: