The Effects of E-Waste on the Environment
To mitigate the effects of e-waste on the environment, organisations must work hard to develop adequate solutions that are practical and cost-efficient.
The disposal of e-waste has been problematic since the 1970s, but it is currently at a global tipping point due to the sheer prevalence of electronic goods in modern business settings. Consider that a lifestyle of mass consumption, planned obsolescence of phones, laptops, and other devices, and the types of materials used in their manufacture are all contributing to enormous amounts of e-waste worldwide.
Practical, cost-effective solutions to mitigating the effects of e-waste on the environment are therefore necessary for organisations in the 21st century as we can no longer afford to ignore the threats posed by e-waste disposal.
Electronic Waste, Defined
Electronic waste (e-waste) consists of waste electrical and electronic equipment (also defined as WEEE by the European Union) such as refrigerators, television sets, computers, and mobile phones. These types of products are particularly problematic because the significant effects of e-waste on the environment stem from potentially hazardous, toxic materials found within these products.
All of these products have a usable lifespan, after which they are often discarded upon reaching their end-of-life (EoL). Organisations dealing with massive quantities of rotating IT assets in their inventory are under increasing pressure to comply with data disposal and e-waste disposal laws now commonplace in Europe, America, and elsewhere around the world.
Global E-Waste Growth by the Numbers
The effects of e-waste on the environment have been exacerbated in recent years for several reasons. Firstly, the 21st-century workplace is significantly more technological than offices of the late 20th century. Mobile phones, personal computers, and laptops are now commonplace, all of which have an EoL and must at some point be discarded.
Furthermore, emerging markets in developing nations have spurred a massive demand for private individuals and businesses alike to acquire electronics, which also generates massive quantities of e-waste. But how much are we generating globally?
The WEEE Forum estimated in 2021 that almost 57.4M tonnes of e-waste are expected worldwide in 2021. Moreover, this number is expected to grow at a rate of around 3-4 percent, which is around 2M tonnes every year.
The Effects of E-Waste on the Environment
What makes e-waste so bad for the environment when compared with other streams of waste such as organic or recyclables? In terms of manufacture, most modern electronics contain hazardous or toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, and mercury.
When disposed of in a landfill, these substances dissolve into sludge and leach into the ground soils, thus polluting the earth, water, and air as well as ruining the ecosystems and natural habitats of flora and fauna.
Since newer electronics are using smaller and smaller microchips and components, it’s getting harder to sort and recycle through e-waste despite the need for good solutions being more necessary than ever.
Solutions to the E-Waste Crisis
The European Union has stated that e-waste is amongst the fastest growing waste streams and consequently advocates for solutions such as recycling and contributions to circular economy models.
It’s estimated that only around 20 percent of e-waste is recycled globally, with the remainder filling up and polluting landfills – especially in developing nations, which creates another major problem worthy of consideration.
Whilst 20 percent may seem low, it’s certainly better than not recycling at all. The good news is that e-waste recycling is a rapidly growing industry, one that is proving quite lucrative for those willing to put in the labour and capital requirements necessary to recycle these products.
For example, e-waste recycling in Ireland reached a 15-year high in 2020, amounting to a total of 3,763 tonnes of electronic waste. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another one’s treasure. E-waste recycling is both lucrative and benefits organisations by reducing the effects of e-waste on the environment.
Circular Economy Models for E-Waste
For many decades, organisations have begun to adopt circular economy models which aim to reduce, reuse, and recycle products within a circular economy rather than the old-fashioned method of “take, make, waste” that has caused immense pollution worldwide.
Solutions to mitigating the effects of e-waste on the environment that involve a circular economy model are therefore ideal for large organisations since they achieve many practical goals.
For starters, reducing e-waste disposal in landfills helps to achieve environmental stewardship for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This can help organisations meet strategic goals whilst benefitting the environment; no ‘greenwashing’ but just genuine results to be proud of.
Secondly, recycling EoL IT assets, refurbishing for resale on the global market, and remarketing usable components or entire IT assets is profitable. IT asset disposition (ITAD) companies such as Wisetek can recover the maximum amount from your EoL IT assets and thus pass the savings onto organisations, making the entire process a win-win.
All these benefits are achieved through the implementation of a robust circular economy model.
In recent decades, IT asset disposition (ITAD) providers such as Wisetek have risen to meet several new challenges faced by large organizations dealing with large inventories of IT assets. ITAD companies provide services such as secure hard drive disposal and data destruction, but reputable ITAD companies such as Wisetek go above and beyond by reducing e-waste altogether using circular economy models that work.
New Challenges, New Threats
Whilst e-waste poses a massive challenge to organisations and the environment, it also creates new threat vectors for organisations in terms of data security.
Data breaches are a persistent and growing threat that can cripple an organisation’s trust with its customers and clients, as well as costing potentially millions in damages. In 2021, IBM recorded the highest average cost of a data breach in the past 17 years (since reporting began) at around $4.24M (over €3.66M).
The most common cause of these data breaches came from compromised credentials, which stresses the importance of a robust cyber security strategy that includes responsible and secure data destruction. No matter how strong your network security may be, the improper disposal of hard drives or laptops can make a cyber criminal’s job much easier.
How Does Wisetek Reduce E-Waste?
The myriad challenges posed by the e-waste crisis require practical and cost-effective solutions on behalf of organisations around the world. Wisetek is a leading global provider of ITAD services that contribute to achieving these goals securely and professionally.
Wisetek is committed to a number of sustainable initiatives, including our zero-landfill policy which seeks to minimise the contribution of e-waste to landfills and instead refurbish, remarket, or recycle IT assets whilst providing clients with maximum ROI on EoL assets.
These processes are elements of our efficient circular economy model which seeks to minimise e-waste and to repurpose EoL IT assets whenever possible. IT assets are remarked and sold through our Wisetek Store eCommerce portal.
We accomplish this through compliance with data disposal laws in jurisdictions in which we operate, but more importantly, we adhere to Certified Recycling principles through our membership with associations such as R2 – Responsible Recycling, ISO 14001, e-Stewards, WEEELABEX, and more. All our processes are auditable and transparent.
Organisations that choose Wisetek as their preferred ITAD company benefit by maximising ROI on EoL IT assets, reducing the impact of e-waste on the environment, and improving data security through secure data destruction.