E-waste: key insights and practices that businesses can adopt
April 27, 2023
May 24, 2023
50 million. This is the number of metric tons of e-waste generated each year. In the meantime, using tech devices has become a must for organizations. Technology and digitalization play a key role in our personal and professional lives. Yet, poor electronic waste management is a growing issue affecting our health and the environment.
As a business, you can definitely have an impact regarding e-waste. In the workplace, employees are surrounded by electronic devices such as computers, printers, LED bulbs, etc.
But what happens to these items when they are no longer used? How to make sure they are not ending up in open-air landfills? How to avoid air, water, and soil pollution and reduce rare and raw materials extraction?
Their impact on the environment and our health is undeniable. And, of course, adopting greener practices is a goal we all need to tackle. Moreover, sustainability at work is a crucial topic. So, time to act!
This article gives insight into e-waste, its impact, and the best practices you can introduce in your work environment toward this matter. Are you ready to learn more about electronic disposal and how to handle it?
What is e-waste? Definition & examples
Definition of e-waste
E-waste, or e-scrap, represents all electrical and electronic devices (EEE) that can no longer be used. The next step should be to bring them to a proper e-waste disposal place. Although e-waste can be partially recycled, many of these devices remain in landfills. The biggest concern is that they are mainly made of polluting materials.
Sometimes e-waste is directly treated in the countries where they’ve been used. But they are often shipped away to poorer countries that don’t have the facilities to handle this type of waste. It then ends up in open-air and unprotected dump sites.
The impact on the environment and people’s health is tragic, even for populations that live far away from those sites. Microplastics and other dangerous substances enter the ground, the water, and the air. They pollute rivers that run into our oceans, impacting biodiversity and the whole food chain.
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Examples of electronic waste
There are many types of electronic waste and various ways to divide them. Here are the major categories of e-waste, with a few examples for each of them:
- information and communication technology devices (phones, tablets, etc.);
- office electronics (computers, printers, etc.);
- large and small households appliances (refrigerators, hairdryers, etc.);
- consumer hardware (e-watches, GPS, etc.);
- toys (Nintendo Switch, Kids' cameras, etc.);
- medical equipment (defibrillators, pacemakers, etc.);
- monitoring and control tools (smoke detectors, smart building sensors, etc.);
- lighting devices (LED lamps, switches, etc.).
What do we know about electronic waste? Key facts & information
The consequences of EEE waste on the environment
Unfortunately, electronic equipment can be recycled only partially. Moreover, only around 20% of e-waste goes through a recycling system. This means 80% end up in nature or open-air landfills. Non-recycled e-waste pollutes groundwater, soils, and air (when burnt) as most of these devices contain toxic substances. Mercury, lead, and cadmium, among others, all contaminate every part of the environment.
It not only results in various forms of pollution; it also impacts any kind of life on the planet. Biodiversity suffers from it, and ultimately, we do too. How does it affect humans? This is what we are about to dig into.
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The impact of e-waste on our health
As anything harmful to the environment and biodiversity, non-recycled e-waste also affects our health. It can be in obvious ways or more subtle ways. For example, people that live close to landfills or incinerators are exposed to toxic fumes. For them, we don’t need to explain how this impacts their health. But communities living far away from these locations are not less concerned. For instance, when toxic substances penetrate soils, they reach rivers when it rains and, ultimately, our oceans. Marine life starts to be contaminated.
Not only is it a catastrophe for the whole ecosystem, but it also has harmful effects on the entire food chain. And this same fish might later end up on our plates.
The issue of unwanted, dysfunctional, or obsolete electronic devices and data security
Another important aspect of e-waste is data management. For businesses, protecting data is always a crucial matter. Have you considered erasing all private information saved in your electronic devices before disposing of them? If not, thieves and hackers will have a fun time collecting all your data. It will be less enjoyable when you have to calculate how much this data leak will cost you. So, what can you do about it? Several data destruction systems enable you to delete all information on your old EEE. But first, you should create an end-of-life policy for all corporate electronic devices. Like this, you make sure the company’s equipment is returned.
You can then proceed to the second step, data destruction, also called data erasure or data sanitation. Another option is to contact a registered e-waste recycling firm specializing in this domain if it’s easier for you.
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The lucrative value of the e-waste market
According to the e-waste report of the UN Environment Program, the amount of e-waste produced annually is worth over $62.5 billion, more than most countries GDP. There is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore! Do you want to hear one last astonishing piece of information the report reveals. “More than 44 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste was produced globally in 2017 – over six kilograms for every person on the planet. This is equivalent in weight to all the commercial aircraft ever built.” Crazy, right?
The problem is that this EEE, which contains raw materials such as gold, iron, silver, platinum, cobalt, and copper, is often not recycled. The extraction of these raw materials deeply harms the environment and biodiversity. Therefore, the value of the recycling process is both ecological and financial. To give you a reference point, the e-waste generated in 2019 represented 53.6 Mt and contained raw materials worth around $57 billion.
How to raise awareness about this issue and reduce corporate e-waste? deskbird tips and recommendations
Promote the 3R’s method
The 3R's method consists of reusing items instead of throwing them away, reducing waste, and recycling everything that can be recycled. This principle can be applied in both personal and professional environments.
For example, repairing a printer enables you to reuse it instead of buying a new one and creating more e-waste. Similarly, you can also give a second life to your EEE by sending them to a repair company. If you still use it, ask them to send it back to you, all fixed and looking brand-new. If not, let them resell it as a second-hand item. One of the most famous marketplaces for refurbished devices is the French startup BackMarket.
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Communicate about e-waste and other sustainable matters
For all businesses, communicating their values internally and externally is fundamental. If one of yours is creating a more sustainable world, sharing this with your team members is essential. There are many ways to talk about e-waste and help employees act on this issue. For example, you can:
- Organize events about sustainable practices, including the e-waste topic, to discuss and share tips with all your staff.
- Create a weekly green newsletter for employees to subscribe to and give recommendations about how to recycle EEE best.
- Hang information boards on the walls to inform your staff about best practices to avoid and reduce e-waste.
By talking about it, you raise awareness and help people find solutions to reduce their impact on the planet. They might then bring these ideas home and spread the word! This is the best way to make practices toward e-waste improve.
Visit the E-Waste World Conference and Expo 2023!
Do you want to know more about e-waste and innovative solutions to tackle this issue? The E-Waste World Conference and Expo are happening on the 28th and 29th of June 2023 in Frankfurt-Messe, Germany. It is the perfect occasion to meet e-waste experts, learn how to create a circular economy, and discover solutions for a more sustainable supply chain. So, save the date if you are around!
We hope this article gives you a better understanding of e-waste, the impact of poor electronic waste management, and how to decrease EEE waste in the workplace. The rule is quite simple. Avoid buying unnecessary devices (reduce), repair when you can (reuse), and dispose correctly of any unwanted, dysfunctional, or obsolete electronic equipment (recycle).
At deskbird, we believe flexible work arrangements can help companies and team members reduce their impact on the environment in various ways. Employees don’t have to come to the office daily and can therefore reduce their CO2 impact. Having fewer people on-site every day means companies can downsize their workspace. This can significantly reduce your energy consumption and, consequently, your carbon footprint.
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- Europe’s Leading Event For Electronics Recycling, E-waste World;
- Importance of Data Management & Data Destruction: 4 Tips to Keep Your Business Safe, Great lakes Electronic Corporation;
- Latest Global E-Waste Statistics And What They Tell Us, theroundup.org;
- UN report: Time to seize opportunity, tackle challenge of e-waste, UN Environment Program;
- Types of Electronic Waste: Definition and Categories, Waste 4 Change.