The growing number of connected electronic devices in use in the UK has led to an inquiry by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) which will focus on reducing ‘e-waste’ (dumped devices) and creating a circular economy.
Mostly As Landfill
One of the most startling statistics which has led to the EAC inquiry is that 90% of the 44.7 million tonnes of e-waste produced worldwide in 2017 ends up in landfill, is incinerated, is illegally traded or is otherwise treated in a sub-standard way.
Plastics & Precious Metals
The need to do something now to prevent an even bigger future problem has been heightened by recent reports of plastic waste and microplastic particles in the world’s oceans, sea creatures, and even frozen in arctic ice. For example, figures (SAS.org) show that it is estimated there are 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean weighing up to 269,000 tonnes. The UK is also acknowledged to be a major exporter of waste to developing countries, many of which are not equipped to dispose of the waste in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
In the case of e-waste, plastic is just one of the components which could pose a serious environmental risk and could represent a missed opportunity to recycle valuable elements. For example, the UK currently produces 24.9kg of e-waste per person, which is nearly 10kg more than the European Union (EU) average.
In addition to large quantities of plastic, e-waste can include high value, difficult to obtain elements such as lithium, tantalum and tungsten, and other polluting and dangerous chemicals (up to 60 different metals and chemicals) which could pose a risk to public health, wildlife and the wider ecosystem if, for example, they got into the water supply via landfill.
Need To Create A Circular Economy
In addition to investigating the e-waste problem, the EAC will be investigating the UK’s e-waste industry and looking at how a circular economy can be created for electronic goods. A circular economy is an economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
We know that the growing number of devices is creating a massive e-waste problem, and it is good that the UK government is launching its own inquiry, hopefully bringing one more to the 67 countries that have enacted legislation to deal with the e-waste they generate.
Some commentators have noted that, having a more digital and connected world could actually help to accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goals, thereby helping emerging economies, and ensuring that less precious minerals, metals and resources are dumped into landfill.
Some of the suggested ways to help deal with e-waste problem, and which will have an impact on many businesses, not least those who manufacture and sell devices, are looking at ways to dematerialise the electronics industry e.g. through device-as-a-service business models, better product tracking and take-back schemes, and entrepreneurs, investors, academics, business leaders and lawmakers working together to find ways to make the circular economy work.