issue of waste disposal – e-waste

An outer Sydney council kerb-side collection truck did pick-up and crush the e-waste with all else. The thought was then: In this digital era we’re all linked to e-waste and need to understand it, the problems and do more than puff about what to do to implement solutions. Why is it so difficult to get anyone to care?

World wide policy makers acknowledge the issue of waste disposal is complex and poses challenges that relate directly to cost ($), and the measures of cost are viewed as a high political point despite sustainability and environmental issues having longer-term effects that affect viability. It is notoriously complex, and we listen to the excuses and catch cries of our thought leaders along the lines it is the system that is the problem, and major corporations need to take more responsibility for their products. You might also hear that consumers are to blame and it is their needs that generate the e-waste.

CO2Land org was pondering the conundrum of responsibility and took note of a post from 6 Heads (http://6-heads.com/2012/11/10/beyond-responsibility-2-0-insights-from-brazil/) and the follow up links to their argument on responsibility.

They talk of an alumni event at Imperial College London. Centered on the politics of climate change and how we need to move discussions beyond responsibility to get the positive collaboration levels needed.

Critical to the issue of responsibility is the end of life processes and when e-waste needs to be treated appropriately. That is the need to appropriately dismantle it, organize the different components, and the process and policies of reuse and recycling.

6 Heads says responsibly for this e-waste end of life phase takes into account two key steps: storage and disposal.

“Storage influences the amount of electronic products entering the waste stream before they can be appropriately treated. Nokia published survey results on the end-of-life of mobile phones, which revealed the difficulty in collecting phones as nearly 50% were kept in home drawers, and merely 5% were collected for recycling. This delay caused by storage makes collection for recycling difficult, and minimises opportunities to substitute virgin materials through recycling.”

Then in discussing Disposal:

“Once an item is thrown away, it should hopefully enter the recycling system. The recycling system is made up the following processes and the effectiveness of recycling is determined the weakest link. Often, the weakest link is the disposal of e-goods, which is closely tied to our behaviour.”

CO2Land org notes they are saying the weakest link to processing e-waste is collection.  No, it is not that simple, and there is another problem, albeit the weakness is collection the business of e-waste exists and comparative advantage of lesser-developed countries is enticing illegal exportation of e-waste. 6 Heads write, “countries like India, Pakistan and China, as this is the cheaper option. In fact, over 80% of the world’s e-waste is either dumped, landfilled or illegally shipped to developing countries where it is dismantled.” So we can then conclude The complexity of this industry is that costs entice low recycling rates and collection and then disposal determines high recycling rates. Then to avoid costs the cycle, at this time, is mostly e-waste is produced by higher standard of living countries and processed most likely by developing countries.

When considering responsibility, consider the lack of strong incentives, lack of an easy disposal system and low awareness among consumers and that behaviour is shaped and limited by the systems that surround us. The evidence is that most consumers are not aware or able to determine whether their e-waste is safe and what is the appropriate disposal methods – then think of the truck driver and offsider in Sydney. Why did they not know what was the complexity of their work. It does not matter how easy or hard it is too understand, they at least should be given good information to know what is happening because of the work.

Following is a brief insight of the story ‘Beyond responsibility 2.0 – insights from Brazil’, the measure may hold the answers:

“So how to tackle this phenomenon? Ideally, we want a solution that makes returning defunct and undesired electronics easy and cheap.

The EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) is a flagship policy that holds producers responsible for the collection e-waste. The systems put in place for this to happen can take many shapes and form, from collection points to buy-back schemes, the opportunities for returning e-waste are improving. What’s more, the need to divert e-waste from landfill is giving rise to business opportunities as companies like Mazuma and Envirofone deliver services to individual consumers and entire organisations.

But ultimately consumers will also need to raise the bar and play the role of active environmentally responsible citizens. We bear a social responsibility; we also need to bear an environmental responsibility.

Innovatively, Brazil has made all stakeholders along the lifecycle of electronic goods responsible for ensuring that it is appropriately returned to the manufacturer. From the consumer, to the retailer, the distributor and manufacturer, by law all of these stakeholders are required to ensure that e-waste enters the recycling system and is diverted from landfill. The National Solid Waste Law is the first to hold all actors accountable, and is a huge step towards environmental citizenship and solving sustainability through holistic means.

Furthermore, Brazil has also introduced a national programme to driver greater environmental citizenship. The Plano Nacional para Produção e Consumo Sustentávebrings together the public, private and civil society sectors in a national effort to increase environmental awareness and responsibility. The effects of the policies remain to be seen, but one thing is clear: Brazil has moved towards a more holistic definition of responsibility and is making efforts to mobilise all affected parties in an effort to advance to more sustainable behaviour and technologies.”

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