At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in 2021, coal, methane and CO2 made headlines. Yet there was a silent silence around technology—the fastest growing solid waste stream in the world. In 2019 alone, the world generated 53.6 million tons of garbage, which is about 16 pounds per person.
same year, only 17 percent of that electronic waste got recycled. The rest of it was sent to a landfill out of sight or shipped offshore, often in the developing world, where mercury, arsenic and lithium are left to seep into the ground and data-bearing devices containing sensitive information can be found and exploited.
Cardboard and plastic consumer recycling has become so mainstream that it seems unthinkable to ignore recycling bins. However, our electronic waste containing precious metals, hazardous chemicals and sensitive data continues to find its way into the garbage every time new technology improves.
Now is the time for us to realize that our dustbins are not just a magical portal to the abyss. So 2022 should be the year when recycling technology goes mainstream. In fact, as we continue to deplete natural resources and more and more privacy breaches and data protection laws come into force, 2022 should not only be the year when recycling technology goes mainstream, it should be.
On Christmas Day around our planet, millions of phones, tablets and laptops are unwrapped. The total quantity of electronic components each year is about . is increased 2.5 million tonnes, By 2030, the total amount of electronic waste will double again. It seems clear that this growing waste stream must be recycled, yet Only 5 percent say they will recycle their devices.
When simply thrown away, these discarded items are left to be digested by our ecosystem. While Earth is incredibly efficient at decomposing organic matter such as dead animals, fallen trees and food scraps, it cannot naturally absorb the highly processed metals and manufactured compounds required in today’s technology.
Our smartphones contain dangerous chemicals like mercury, lead and even arsenic. These toxic substances dissolve in the sludge at the bottom of landfills, which then seep into the wider ecosystem. People and businesses need to start seeing e-waste as hazardous waste so that it can be properly disposed and paid for for the sake of our planet.
An egg from a free-range chicken in Agbogbloshi, Ghana, one of the world’s largest e-waste sites, was found to have levels of chlorinated dioxin 220 times higher than the limit set by the European Food Safety Authority. If you wouldn’t bury your old laptops in your backyard, you shouldn’t bury them in someone else’s house.
Old electronics also contain glass, steel, copper, plastic, aluminum, gold, silver and palladium, all of which are limited resources that must be recycled. Yet many do not. In 2018, just . From smartphone alone320 tonnes of gold and 7,200 tonnes of silver were dumped.
Another solution lies with the advancement of a circular economy. Manufacturers should be better encouraged to make hardware repair, reuse and recycling profitable. With the physical value of the world’s e-waste $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countriesSystems need to be continually in place to future-proof manufacturers’ supply chains, alleviating concerns about long-term availability of raw materials. The shift of global mindset from a linear to circular economy is crucial for technology.
Today, whenever you buy a new phone, many manufacturers offer discounts when you trade in your old device. Many companies offer money for second-hand tech, including manufacturers and retailers. We must only combine innovation with innovation and be ready to use technology to bring solutions so that we can keep up with innovations happening at the other end of the device food chain and establish a circular economy that is all is a win for .
In 2019, there was an increase in the amount of e-waste 21 percent from 2014, Clearly this upward trend must stop. in 2020, America throws away 25 percent more trash during Christmas than any other time of year, Despite the serious environmental and data security hazards of e-waste not making headlines, action is being taken to bring about change. However, education remains the most important obstacle to overcome.
COP26 was proof that the world is ready to tackle its carbon emissions, plastics and fossil fuels. It was also clear that e-waste is slipping under the radar. As technology is booming, so too is the amount of electronic waste. This is why recycling an old smartphone is as easy and socially expected as recycling Christmas wrapping paper.
John Shegerian is the President and CEO of ERI, the largest cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction and electronic waste recycling company in the United States.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.