Tackling Singapore's Growing E-waste

Note: Article adapted from here.

Singapore alone generates over 60,000 tonnes of electronic waste every year. A figure that massive is sure to send chills down your spine, especially when considering that it is the equivalent of each Singaporean disposing of a whopping 70 phones yearly. Our dependence on technology has increased exponentially over the years, a trend which shows no signs of slowing. Electronic waste encompasses all of our tablets, laptops, mobiles, televisions and more. These items can be repaired, reused or recycled, but more often than not, are simply discarded. Our electronic waste is set to skyrocket in the coming years, almost doubling by 2030. Whether the newest model just launched or repairs are simply not as convenient, we must look at the bigger picture to see just how much damage our actions can truly cause. Electronic waste is incinerated when it is disposed of haphazardly. The valuable and scarce components of the waste, like silver and gold, are lost. The remaining heavy metals and toxins like cadmium and lead seep into our environment and cause substantial harm to the health of the surrounding people and ecosystem as a whole. This unsafe disposal also leads to increased carbon emissions which contributes heavily to global warming. It is crucial that our electronic waste be recycled.

The Singapore government has taken many initiatives towards facilitating the safe recycling of our electronic waste. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has implemented a system which manages our electronic waste and guarantees that it is being collected and handled with the utmost consideration for environmental standards. The system is based on the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework by the NEA, by which producers must be held responsible for their products at the end of useful life. StarHub’s RENEW Programme has been responsible for placing over 400 recycling bins all over Singapore, to allow for more convenient disposal. ReCYCLE: Singtel x SingPost E-Waste Recycling Programme has waived postage for devices being sent to recycling facilities. City Square Mall, Canon, Epson, and IKEA have also started their own recycling programs in the country. The NEA is also working with industry leaders through volunteer programs to spread awareness. Companies are finally taking responsibility for their actions.

The government has also taken its own measures to reduce electronic waste, through regulations and upstream controls. They have placed strict restrictions on hazardous substances (RoHS) in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE),  in order  to minimise the amount of heavy metals entering the environment. This is vital in extending the life of the Semakau Landfill, where our electronic waste is dumped. The government has restricted the amount of mercury that is allowed in fluorescent lamps and alkaline batteries. Mercury cannot be completely eradicated as it is crucial to the production of light, however the level can be lowered significantly by producers. It is also highly encouraged that rechargeable batteries be used to reduce the amount of toxic waste seeping into our environment. The government has also made an effort to set up recycling bins all over the country. Once collected, our lamps, batteries and bulbs will be sent to proper electronic waste recycling facilities where they will be safely disposed of.

The initiatives of the public and private sector have helped minimise electronic waste in the short run. However, it is not enough to tackle the colossal problem in its entirety. With demand of electronic products increasing at its current rate, it is unlikely that these actions alone will suffice. It is crucial that a circular economy be created to better preserve the health of the people and the environment.

To extract the gold and other 16 different metals from the e-waste, this must be done in a safe and sustainable way.  The current practice of extracting gold from e-waste is through the use of toxic chemicals such as cyanide and harsh acids. This practice is harmful not only to the environment but also to mankind.  Companies doing the recycling of e-waste must extract gold safely, sustainably and ethically.

Clean Urban Mining, part of Clean Earth Technologies Group, has a non-toxic gold recovery reagent that extracts gold cleanly and sustainably without the use of cyanide and harsh acids. A sustainable future of disposing e-waste is therefore possible.