What can we do to combat our growing e-waste challenge?

by Sven Boddington. Published Tue 23 Jun 2015 10:35, Last updated: 2015-06-23
More than £34bn of recyclable electronic goods end up in ‘toxic mines’

By Sven Boddington, Vice President, Global Marketing & Client Solutions, Teleplan International

Businesses are full of technology ‒ from desktop computers to specialist electronic devices and mobile devices, it’s technology that keeps many businesses running. In this modern age one would assume that the approach businesses take to disposing of their old electronics would be as forward thinking as their approach to adopting new technology, so it’s appalling that many old, disused or discarded electronics are being dumped in landfill well before the end of their useful life, a problem which is getting worse with each passing year. I believe most companies want to make a better contribution in this area but are not sure how to go about it.

A recent report from the United Nations University (UNU) shone a light on this problem, revealing that globally more than £34bn of potentially recyclable electronic goods end up in ‘toxic mines’. This means less than 16 per cent of global e-waste is being diverted away from landfill, much of which has the capacity to be reused, resold, repaired, recycled or safely disposed of.

The economic cost of waste electronics is alarming on two counts. The first is from the cost of disposal and clean up; but there is also the lost revenue that reusing and recycling materials can generate. The UNU report found the global waste dump contained 1,000 tonnes of silver worth £400m, 16 megatons of steel with a value of £6.5bn and 300 tonnes of gold – the equivalent to more than a 10th of annual global production.

The UNU report also reinforces our own recent findings at Teleplan where, we discovered that the British public are throwing away electronic devices worth more than £1.4bn every year. Instead of opting for a simple repair, most people choose to put electronics in the bin; 48.3 per cent of respondents said items were not worth replacing, 34.3 per cent bought a replacement device and 10.2 per cent just could not be bothered to pay or claim for a repair.

It is important to manage end of life electronics goods in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible, ensuring that any reusable components are recovered as well as any hazardous substances are removed safely. Harmful heavy metals and chemicals commonly used in the manufacture of electronics can easily filter into the ground and water systems, for example.

There is huge value to be gained by businesses which choose to find ways to extend the useful utilization of products through repair and refurbishment services. Even where these products are being superseded through upgrade programs, there is usually good demand for replaced products in secondary markets which can generate a useful additional revenue stream.

Organisations in the supply chain industry are already starting to take the lead to provide incentives for manufacturers, retailers and consumers, to ensure electronic products pass back into the manufacturing cycle and components re-enter the supply chain. For example, companies are beginning to see the potential in offering trade-in or buyback schemes when selling new devices which not only saves the consumer money but also promote brand loyalty in the longer term. These companies also benefit from being better corporate citizens as they take greater responsibility for improving their environmental footprint and prevent products going to landfill.

By correctly embracing effective e-waste management strategies within our businesses, we can start to turn this problem into an opportunity enabling an enhanced customer service experience and positively impacting the environment.

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