Sunday, October 31, 2021

Perfect Waste of Electronics

Nothing, like Something, happens anywhere..........(Philip Larkin, English Poet, 1955)

Every device ever produced has a carbon footprint and E-waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. 

E-waste is defined as anything with a plug, electric cord or battery from toothbrushes to laptops that has reached the end of its life, as well as the components that make up these end of-life products. 

E-waste is also called waste electrical or electronic equipment (WEEE)

E-waste is often incinerated or dumped in landfills and sometimes pulled apart by hand or burned by the world’s poorest, to the detriment of health and the environment. E-waste can be toxic, is not biodegradable and accumulates in the environment, in the soil, air, water. 

E-waste may represent only 2% of solid waste streams, yet it can represent 70% of the hazardous waste that ends up in landfill.

One solution is Electronics as a Service;

The process/service called dematerialization, and is happening in many aspects of people’s lives. 

- In the Netherlands, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) sells lighting as a service, 

- In the UK, Rolls Royce sells airplane engine time rather than jet engines. 

Current leasing and rental models can also help with dematerialization;

With monthly contracts for smartphones, televisions, allow global consumers to access the latest technology, particularly products with short lifespans and without high up-front costs. Access to innovation and upgrades continues unabated, while barriers to usership have also lowered. With this new ownership model, the manufacturer has an incentive to ensure that all the resources are used optimally over a device’s lifecycle including recycling. 

There is also an incentive to keep the value in products for as long as possible, extend the life of devices, repair them when necessary, eliminate waste and reduce the impact that electronic products have on the environment.

Instead of a one-off transaction, the business model shifts to one of an ongoing service, and the subscription economy. This builds a much closer and stronger customer relationship. 

The rise of cloud computing has also helped with dematerialization, by moving the capability of devices away from hardware purchase and into remote data centers, hardware capabilities become less important relative to connectivity and services. 

In turn, this would increase product life cycles and decrease waste in the system.

This same e-waste represents a huge opportunity;

There is 100 times more gold in a ton of mobile phones than in a ton of gold ore. 

Furthermore, harvesting the resources from used electronics produces substantially less carbon-dioxide emissions than mining in the earth’s crust. 

Hence, all of the medals presented this summer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were extracted from old phones.

However; Working electronic goods and components are worth more than the materials they contain. Therefore, extending the life of products and re-using components brings an even larger economic benefit (including mining of digital currency). 

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