The proliferation of electronics represents a major environmental hazard. It is estimated that we will buy 2.5 billion mobiles, computers and tablets this year. In total there will soon be more digital devices than people on the planet. As of 2012 that amounted to nearly 8kg of e-waste for every person on the planet. As the amount of electronics grows it has never been more important to consider how these devices are made and how they are disposed of.
Many big electronics firms are responding to public pressure to make improvements to the way these devices are made and how they are managed at the end of their life cycle. Electronic devices now contain less hazardous substances and are more efficient. However, far more needs to be done. The industry will need to develop innovative solutions to curb this growing problem.
Greenpeace has been at the forefront of efforts pushing for greater responsibility from the electronics industry. In September, 2014, Greenpeace released a report titled, “Green Gadgets: Designing the Future.” The report is subtitled, “The path to greener electronics.”
Here is a summary of the problems and the solutions contained in the report:
Making billions of devices that often last for just a couple of years is a) incredibly resource intensive and b) incredibly wasteful if all the energy, raw materials and chemicals used in electronics are discarded as e-waste.
2) Toxic Truth
Many of the hazardous substances currently used in the products and in manufacturing can damage human health and the environment, especially in manufacturing centres in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
3) Designed for the dump
Today many of our products are designed to become obsolete with no or little ability to repair or upgrade, fuelling a throwaway culture that leads to greater resource consumption and creating mountains of waste.
1) An Energy Revolution
Increasing renewable energy use in manufacturing is key to reducing the environmental footprint of our products. Apple is building the world’s first electronics components factory powered only by renewable energy in the US. With solar power growing fast in manufacturing centres like China and Japan, wouldn’t it be great if our devices were made with 100% renewable energy? It’s time to think big.
2) A Toxic-Free Future
Half of the mobile phone market is now free of the worst hazardous chemicals, up from zero in 2006. That’s progress. What if companies extended that to all products and followed the example of leading clothing brands by ‘Detoxing’ their entire supply chains? It’s possible. Our gadgets should not come at the price of human health or the safety of our future generations.
3) Design innovation: Products made to last
The sector must shift to providing products that have a long lifespan and are easily upgraded and repairable. As more and more devices are sold we must make sure we can get the most out of the resources and energy used in electronics manufacturing. There are already examples of innovation along these lines, for example Phoneblocks and Motorola’s Project Ara, that allow users to repair or replace their devices.
Click here to read Green Gadgets: Designing the future.
Video – Electronics Built in Bad Design
Video – Problems in the Life Cycle of a Smartphone
Infographic – Following E-Waste
US e-Waste: Review of Recycling and Other Efforts
Infographic – Export of e-waste to Dumping Sites
Jobs Through Electronic Recycling Report
E-Waste: A New Business Opportunity
The Growing Problem of Cell Phone Waste
Greenpeace e-Waste Investigation (Video)
The Problems and Solutions of e-Waste (Video)
US e-waste is Polluting Toxic Dumps in Ghana (Video)
The US Desire to be “Green” is Causing an e-Waste Hell China (Video)
AT&T’s Record Breaking Recycling for Wireless Devices
Sprint’s Industry Leading Cell Phone Recycling
Samsung Sustainability Journey
LG’s Recycling Leadership
HP’s Sustainable Innovation
Steve Jobs: Apple’s Product Recycling Efforts