The Future of E-Waste Recycling

Note: Article adapted from here.

We are so quick to discard our electronic devices. Whether redundant or faulty; our electronic waste piles up in landfills and creates significant harm for the environment. Their toxic components, like lead and mercury, seep into our soil and waterbeds; contaminating them and destroying the entire ecosystems as a consequence. The UK is one of the world's largest producers of this waste. However, the majority of the country’s electronic waste is exported to developing nations where regulations for safe disposal are lax. Gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminium and cobalt are all lost when we do not recycle our devices properly. Majority of these metals are scarce and it won’t be long before we have to start mining our electronic waste. In Africa, China and India, entire villages base their livelihoods on extracting these valuable components of electronic waste. Although their unsupported labour often leads to the people facing severe ailments caused by exposure to the injurious toxins.

To better deal with this problem, we need to mitigate it at the source. As devices become cheaper and more accessible, their demand continues to skyrocket. Manufacturers must be held accountable for the aftermath of their products' life. They should work towards designing devices that are easily recyclable and take part in sustainable sourcing.

Manufacturers should also take initiatives towards recycling their old devices by making the process more convenient for consumers. They can set up collection sites for consumers to return their old devices at the end of their working life to incentivise them to opt for safer disposal alternatives. It is vital that we take our devices to an electronic waste recycling facility to make a difference for future generations. We as consumers must also ensure that we postpone upgrading our devices at the newest launch, especially when they are in perfect condition. Our rampant consumerism holds dire ramifications for our future. Although it is much more convenient to simply replace your device rather than repair it, the environment will thank you for the extra effort you put in.

Mining projects are currently underway to better help tackle the rise in electronic waste. Mines in Europe are working on developing a secondary supply chain for cobalt, typically found in old batteries. A modular recycling system will allow them to develop a circular economy and prevent waste of scarce resources.

Clean Urban Mining, part of the Clean Earth Technologies Group, has a sustainable solution for harvesting valuable materials such as gold, silver, copper, from e-waste. The solution uses a benign, organic polymer, in place of toxic cyanide and strong acids, to extract high value metals. Time to create a circular economy through e-waste.