The problem with electronic waste…
11 Feb 2021
The latest technology quickly makes predecessor models from just a few years ago look old-fashioned – barely is a new piece of equipment on market, and it already feels outdated. Computing performance improves, screens become thinner and smartphones offer more and more functions.
On average, electronic equipment in Germany is used for up to two years. Then it ends up in waste streams as electronic scrap. But most devices can be used for much longer than this. In particular, infrastructure equipment is ideal for continued use after refurbishment.
In 2019 alone, 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste were produced worldwide. An increase to 74 million tonnes is expected by 2030. This would be double what was produced in 2014. Reusing electronic equipment does not just save valuable resources, but also counteracts growing mountains of waste. However, refurbishment is not always an option for old equipment and eventually it must be professionally disposed of. Unfortunately, disposal is associated with a variety of problems. In this article, we’ve summarised what these are, and which directives exist for electronic waste.
The mountains of waste are growing worldwide
Mountains of electronic waste are one of the most rapidly growing waste streams in the world. Processing this waste is associated with many difficulties. The hazardous substances it contains – such as cadmium, mercury and lead – can cause significant damage to the climate and the environment. At the same time, the equipment contains many valuable raw materials which could be reused, such as copper or iron.
In general, electronic waste is too rarely disposed of in recycling centres, despite all the efforts to improve the collection rates. Particularly noticeable is the drop in returned old equipment. Between 2016 and 2018, twenty per cent less electronic waste was collected, despite there being a large growth in new equipment. The reason for this is that although many consumers are purchasing new equipment, they are not handing their old equipment in at recycling centres. According to estimates this must be around 20 kg Per person, but in reality it is usually only 7kg.
The largest amount of e-waste is generated in Asia and America; with 2 million tonnes in 2019, Germany is one of the leading countries in Europe.
A large proportion of the electronic waste ends up in rubbish tips in Africa. According to estimations by the United Nations, every year between 20 and 50 million tonnes of waste equipment ends up in rubbish tips.
Thousands of people earn their living hunting for valuable raw materials inside the old equipment. To access the treasures within, the plastic housings of the circuit boards and cables are melted. The burning emits toxic and carcinogenic gases, and it is children and young people in particular who suffer from the effects of disposal. The consequences are also noticeable in nature. In those places, the quantity of hazardous substances the air and soil are 50 times higher than the values rated as harmless to health.
Another problem with electronic equipment is their increasingly complex construction. Processing and repair are made more difficult, to encourage the purchase of a new device. Resolving this issue requires directives implementing a legal right to a repair for the end consumer. A change in thinking is needed in this respect, too. To constantly bring new equipment onto the market – which is then sold and subsequently disposed of – cannot be the strategy for the future. Instead, products must be developed which hold value for consumers over a longer period. If a product is used for longer, this helps protect the environment.
Legal framework conditions for electronic equipment
To do something about the growing quantity of electronic waste, in 2014 the EU commission issued the WEEE Directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). The introduction of this directive should ensure proper disposal of electronic equipment in the EU. The WEEE Directive introduces a shared responsibility for products.
It makes manufacturers, producers, importers and exporters responsible for the equipment throughout its entire lifespan. Here the member states had to create and implement fundamental framework conditions:
- Electronic equipment must be collected separately from residual waste. Returning electronic equipment must be free of charge for private consumers.
- Manufacturers must comply with the special obligations for marking the product. All electronic equipment which comes under the directive must be marked with the symbol showing the crossed-out rubbish bin.
- In the relevant EU countries, there is an obligation to register electronic equipment brought onto the market.
- Each state must have a directory of all the manufacturers which sell their equipment in the relevant country.
- All new products brought onto the market must be documented continuously.
- Manufacturers and distributors of electronic equipment must pay the costs for the collection and sorting system.
- When old equipment is exported, exporters must prove that it will be reused or disposed of properly abroad as well. This improves monitoring of old equipment being exported and makes customs checking easier.
The German law regarding waste electrical and electronic equipment came into effect in October 2015, with the aim of more or less fulfilling the collection quotas. This law controls the return and environmentally-friendly disposal of electrical and electronic waste. Manufacturers must provide a financial guarantee (which is protected from insolvency) for the taking back and disposal of electronic equipment. This should make it easier for consumers to dispose of their old equipment.
Recycling at Green IT Solution
Of course, it’s best to use electronic equipment for as long as possible. At Green IT Solution, we are committed to refurbishing IT equipment and keeping it in circulation. But some equipment cannot be refurbished and must eventually be disposed of. We can offer support here too, and dispose of your old equipment for you. When doing so we ensure the recycling is performed by professionals, in line with the WEEE Directive. Afterwards, you will receive a certificate of disposal.
An overview of your advantages with Green IT-Solution:
- GDPR-compliant handling of data carriers
- Important raw materials for the environment are retained
- Professional disposal according to European guidelines
If you have any more questions about the disposal process for your old equipment, then we will use our experience to help you. Don’t hesitate to contact us for advice.