Gary Moore, the sales director at UNTHA UK, talks about how to deal with WEEE in a world that is becoming more and more digital, from reusing and recycling to recovering and getting rid of it.
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has become a bigger recycling problem in the last few decades as society becomes more and more digital.
This is definitely because people use technology faster than ever before. We all use technology in some way every day, whether it’s buying the newest phone or buying the newest games or home gadgets. The numbers back this up.
The amount of WEEE in the world was estimated to be 57.4 million tonnes in 2018. This is up from 53.6 million tonnes in 2019. And this number is only going to keep going up.
A day to raise awareness
In 2018, WEEE Forum created the first “International E-Waste Day,” which will take place on October 14. This was done to draw more attention to this type of waste and to encourage people to recycle their old WEEE.
This year’s day is especially about the small electronics that most people throw away or put away in drawers.
“Recycle it all, no matter how small,” is the main message of this campaign.
Out of the 57 million tons of e-waste made around the world, these small “end-of-life” items make up 22 million tonnes. And it’s thought that this number will easily reach 29 million tonnes by 2030 if this stream keeps growing at the same rate as total e-waste, which is 3% per year.
Whether it’s a cell phone, an electric toothbrush, a toaster, headphones, or a kitchen gadget, it’s a sad fact that when these things are no longer “useful,” they are often thrown away in the wrong way by being dumped or burned.
When this happens, the high-value parts that are “locked inside” these devices are lost, which is something that needs to be stopped.
The Waste Hierarchy says that the most important thing is to stop making waste in the first place.
The Waste Hierarchy says that preventing waste should be the top priority. If this is not possible, then reuse, recycling, recovery, and disposal should be tried, and in that order.
It is very important that the public knows this and that these steps are taken. This will not only help cut down on the amount of e-waste since fewer items will end up in landfills, but it will also make it easier to find, sort, and recycle the valuable materials inside.
As an example, think about cell phones. One million phones are said to have 24 kg of gold, 16,000 kg of copper, 350 kg of silver, and 14 kg of palladium, which are all valuable materials that can and should be recovered.
Even though people who work in the waste industry know that realizing the resource potential of WEEE is a key step toward creating a circular economy, this needs to be made known to the public as a whole.
In 2020, researchers found that the people of Britain are “tech hoarders.” They found that 55 million unused mobile phones were hidden in drawers.
And when the net is spread to Europe, it is thought that each person has 5 kg of electronic devices in their home on average.
These numbers are scary, but we have to ask ourselves, “Why do people do this?” Is it because they don’t know what to do with them or because they don’t know they can reuse or recycle them? Or is it something else?
In 2019, for example, only 17.4% of the world’s e-waste was properly treated and recycled. Most people think this number is much higher, between 40 and 50%.
Just putting these devices away stops any possible reuse or recycling from happening.
Using the waste hierarchy to look at this, just putting these devices away stops them from being reused or recycled, and this is something that the industry and governments around the world need to work together to fix.
It’s great that there are already things like collection boxes in supermarkets and PO Boxes where people can send back small pieces of e-waste, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Where is the recycling of WEEE going?
WEEE is often called the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world, and if things keep going as they are, the amount of e-waste will reach 120 million tonnes by 2050 if nothing changes.
But product makers and policymakers also need to do their part. The waste industry needs to keep working together and coming up with new ideas to make sure the technology is there to free up and recycle these materials.
Devices should be made to last and be easy to recycle, and long-term campaigns to raise awareness should be started. Priority should also be given to putting in place systems and processes that make it easy for people to recycle and get rid of these things in the right way. Only then will it be possible to have a real circular economy.
I’m excited to see what new conversations “International E-Waste Day” will start this year.
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