In 2013, the world produced 50 million tonnes of electronic waste or e-waste. This figure, projected to increase every year, makes e-waste the single fastest growing waste stream on the planet.

So, before you buy, think about it. Whose responsibility is it?

The EU reported 9 million tonnes in 2005 and expects more than 12 million tonnes by 2020. Across Asia, developing countries and booming economies see e-waste levels shoot up by an incredible 500% over the next seven years.

Next, think about it before you throw too. What is e-waste and where does it go?

To date, there is no official definition for “waste electrical and electronic equipment”, a broad category that includes discarded computers, office electronics, entertainment devices, mobile phones, TV sets, and refrigerators.

  • 15-20% is recycled — the remaining 80-85% is jettisoned into landfills and incinerators. This risks posed to environment, public health and safety are exponential. Components are highly hazardous, containing beyond-threshold quantities of lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame-retardants.
  • More than a few developing countries and countries in transition have become, despite preventive legislation, e-waste dumping grounds for developed countries, adding to the inventory generated internally. In the United States, as much as 70% of heavy metal landfill contamination comes from electronics, a figure that is likely to be much greater in other parts of the world.

So, before you buy, whose responsibility is it, again?

  • The consumer electronics sector is notorious for short product cycles. Consumers replace devices that are still usable. Products launch with increasing frequency, and with every new upgrade, what happens to previous versions? The word waste seems incredibly appropriate.
  • The buy-replace pace accelerates with every year; the global marketplace swells with entirely new product ranges made smart. From home instant-order buttons to wearables that monitor sleep and fitness, every aspect of daily life digitised may now also be discarded.

Before it’s too late – Re-manufacture, Redesign, Rethink.

  • For the first hundred years of manufacturing, companies were unconcerned about where old products go. But in a world on the brink of raw material exhaustion, this is no longer acceptable — nor profitable. Enter re-manufacturing, a shift from “cradle-to-grave” to “cradle-to-cradle”, with producer responsibility schemes adopted in the EU now spreading across Asia. E-waste is highly recyclable resource — or rather, can be.
  • The public sector can begin with a common “official” definition and a classification system. Appropriate government intervention can then address and regulate issues — such as trans-boundary e-waste movement and standards for disassembly and detoxification.
  • Finally, consumers must acknowledge that things do not simply disappear. Out of our hands, they become part of the world at large — and how we act determines their return as waste or as a usable resource. Affirmative actions include returning old electronics for re-manufacture and encouraging the right products through purchase decisions or refusals. Find out if your brand of choice has a sincere sustainable strategy in play.

Our devices are smart. Are we?

The opinions expressed by the writers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Fuji Xerox Smart Work Innovation, or the management. Fuji Xerox Smart Work Innovation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writers.