Smart e-waste management brings results
Working from home or from anywhere for that matter, is the new normal. This requires us to sit in Zoom meetings throughout the day, which wouldn't be possible without proper equipment. Nowadays, we wouldn't be able to work if we didn't have laptops, monitors, tablets and smartphones. In addition to the devices themselves, all other necessary hardware need to be acquired e.g., chargers, HDMI-cables, USB - sticks etc. However, after some time, a new set of electronics need to be acquired due to that the previous set exceeded its life span.
So what happens to the outdated set? I dare to claim that every modern household has its own overfilled drawer containing all the old versions of iPhone chargers, a Nokia 3310, PCs, memory sticks, you name it. Basically, all previous sets of electronics can be found in that one drawer. With the rate that technology and consumer electronics evolve, this drawer will soon be overflowing. Maybe you already had to empty an other drawer because your old one is stuffed. So what should we do then?
In this blogpost I reflect on the problem that is e-waste by giving an overview of the concept and how we at SDG Monitor plan to tackle it as it is one of the core challenges of our business model.
What is e-waste?
Electrical or electronic products make one of the largest global industries, where continuous development of novel technology only fuels the growth of consumer electronics. In addition, powerful and advanced computing and processing technologies result in decreasing life-cycle of consumer electronics (1). E-waste, or electronic waste, is any electrical or electronic product that has been discarded, and is currently one of the fastest growing pollution issues we are facing. E-waste contains various types of metals e.g., copper, gold, silver and platinum (1).
Photo by Rayson Tan on Unsplash
Recovering and recycling these metals could aid in reducing both metal production and disposal of dangerous materials in our landfills (1). Recycling these materials can reduce the global demand on metals, which in turn has a positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, with the rate that production of electronics is exceeding, controlling and regulating landfill will still not be enough since at some point we simply run out of land (1). In addition, modern electronics contain many harmful materials e.g., mercury and lead which are not only a threat to the environment but also to public health (1). The exponential growth of e-waste has lead to emerging end-of-life and used products regulations and legislations on both organisational and governmental level (2). In order to bring this to the business level, I want to share how we at SDG Monitor intend to tackle the issue of e-waste.
SDG Monitor and e-waste
Addressing the issues that is e-waste is vital for Agenda 2030 and it is one of the main challenges in the business model of SDG Monitor. As our way of working is 100% remote, we are dependent on a functioning set electronics. Based on our core motto "Less is More", we want to actively make sure that our way of working is environmentally friendly also in terms of e-waste. Therefore, we have formulated actions for reducing both digital and e-waste. In this blog post I want to share these actions on a high level, which can be used on both individual- and enterprise level.
Evaluate necessity : we ask the question: Is replacement of this device necessary or convenient?
Actively extend the life span of the device: keep the device clean of unnecessary files and data to maintain efficiency and life span of the device, and avoid overcharging the battery. NOTE! This is a very important action that is interconnected with a concept called digital waste! Therefore, to extend the life span of our electronics, especially our laptops, we have also integrate digital waste management to our sustainability plan. This action means that we actively clean our laptops and other electronics from unnecessary and old data, files etc. In other words, just like there is a special day when the garbage truck picks up the trash, we intend to dedicate one afternoon per month to clean up our laptops from digital trash. For more information, read the blog post by researchers of John Hopkins University (3).
Lease the next set of electronics: when our current set of electronics has exceeded its life span, we intend to lease the new set to the largest extent. It is clear that not everything can be leased, therefore if a necessity cannot be leased, we aim to buy this device second hand.
Donate old electronics to social programs or recycle: we don’t stash our old set into the “used sets” - drawer, but we first wish to donate as much as possible to social programs e.g., schools or public aid. If this is not possible, we intend to partner up with an e-waste recycling company or organisation where we know that our e-waste will be properly managed.
These action points were inspired by the blog post by Harvard University (4).
In summary, it is vital for the future of this planet and humanity that electronic waste is regulated and managed. On an individual and enterprise level, the aforementioned actions would contribute to solving the issue of e-waste and is good for everyone to practice. Finally, these actions make a significant part of the environmental policy of SDG Monitor, in which our main principle can be translated to: “ having less electronics is more”.
Kumar et al. (2014), E-waste: An overview on generation, collection, legislation and recycling practices, Elsevier B.V, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344917300290
The United Nations and E-waste, https://unemg.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/INF1.pdf
John Hopkins University, (1st September 2011), To Clear Digital Waste in Computers, ‘Think Green,’ Johns Hopkins Researchers Say, https://releases.jhu.edu/2011/09/01/digital-waste-in-computers/
Harvard University, Minimizing E-waste is Important, https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/how/6-ways-minimize-your-e-waste