Are we heading towards an e-waste U-turn?

Are we heading towards an e-waste U-turn?

According to the UN, e-waste is estimated to reach 74.7 million metric tons in 2030 – almost 74 thousand Eiffel Towers worth of waste!

Out with the old

The speed of technology innovation over the last 20 years has contributed to a consumer mindset of out with the old, in with the new. This is especially the case in the mobile industry – 70 percent of British smartphone owners replace their phone within four years, with 28 percent buying a new phone every one to two years. New devices are launched every month housing exciting new features which – in the mind of consumers – gradually make older devices redundant.

As it stands, more than 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated globally every year with more than 80 percent sent to landfills. Approximately 85 million old tech items are sat collecting dust in British homes. Neither outcome is particularly resourceful – for the environment or the owner.

Campaign for the climate

PR stunts have helped bring these conversations to the table. Last year, MusicMagpie created Mount Recyclemore – a sculpture of the G7 leaders’ heads made entirely of discarded electronics – which was mounted directly opposite the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. The stunt was covered in news publications around the world, increasing accountability for politicians.

Collaboration driving change

Efforts from governments, manufacturers, and consumers combined are essential in driving effective change to reduce e-waste. Governments can make it easier and more convenient for consumers to dispose of old devices, while adding more pressure to large corporations that contribute more than 70 percent of emissions.

Big tech companies can do more to encourage consumers to donate or recycle old devices through incentives like cash, loyalty points or charity donations. Consumers consistently demand that manufacturers ensure devices are built to last – with better battery life, effective software updates, and durable hardware.

Reducing the frequency of product launches makes a big difference. Releasing new products with few – if any – valuable changes (*cough cough* iPhone 14) is doing nothing for the planet, consumers, or mobile innovation.

But this requires a conscious effort from consumers too. Consumers can easily find charities that are seeking old devices to give them a new home. Old tech waste can be reused for parts or appropriately recycled by companies, like Genuine Solutions. Consumers can make better purchasing decisions, like repairing rather than replacing, buying second-hand, or recycling old devices when upgrading.

Sooner rather than later

Such large-scale changes typically take years to implement. CCS Insight predicts that commitment to recycling old devices will be a differentiating factor in the electronic device industry by 2027, and next year approximately half of households in Western Europe will have at least one second-hand connected device.

When it comes to e-waste, we are moving in the right direction but there is still lots work to be done.

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