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E-Waste is in the Eye of the Beholder

E-Waste or ElectronicsWhat’s the difference between a pile of e-waste and a stack of used electronics? For most, the answer is “not much.” This answer, however, sheds light on a consumerist mindset prevalent in the developed world that contributes to a growing, global problem. E-waste, short for electronic waste, is technological equipment that has been discarded. It is one of the fastest growing, global waste-streams. However, whether or not that equipment is truly waste depends on where you are living, and your mindset.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

In many developed countries, electronic equipment is treated as though it were disposable. Items are used and quickly disposed once a newer model is released. The disposed items become e-waste, not because they are no longer useful, but because they are no longer wanted. Because of this, electronics that still have a useful life are relegated to the trash, or at best to be recycled.

The disposable mindset in developed countries is set in stark contrast to the mindset in the developing world. In many such countries, there is a thriving market for used electronics. The mentality is different. Rather than use once and dispose, the mindset is one of reuse. The goal is to extend the useful life of an item as long as possible before it is disposed. It is for this reason that so much of our old electronics end up in countries like China, Ghana, India and others. The electronics are refurbished, resold and reused. If the equipment cannot be refurbished and reused, the electronics are stripped and processed to extract the reusable parts or materials. Sometimes, these are whole components, like microchips. Often times, it is the raw materials, like heavy metals, that are removed to be resold.

The Global Perspective

Extending the useful life of equipment has many benefits. Fewer natural resources are consumed in the refurbishment process than in the initial manufacturing process. Extending the useful life of old equipment both mitigates the need for newly manufactured items, as well as providing more affordable options for working equipment. However, the “reuse” mindset in developing countries is not without faults. The problems arise when equipment can no longer be refurbished. The crude methods used in developing countries to disassemble and extract parts and materials cause lasting environmental harm and debilitating health problems for the local people. This is why e-waste is a global problem. Developed countries burn through technological devices at a breakneck pace, while developing countries process the growing bulk of the world’s e-waste using unsafe processes that pollute the environment and irreparably harm human health.

What is the answer to this global problem? Developed countries have the technology to break down materials while preserving the environment and the health of those working in the industry. But developed countries continue to generate e-waste at a faster and faster rate. This is where the reusable mindset of developing countries can be instructive. Developing countries must make the best use of available resources due to economic limitations. Developed countries, however, do not feel this pressure. But our natural resources are not infinite. To change the way we use and dispose of electronics in the developed world, the reuse mentality must be self-imposed. The solution to the global e-waste problem is not simple, but even the smallest steps can make a difference. Rather than perpetuating a consumerist mindset, we can ask ourselves: “is our e-waste really waste?”

Find out more about how to establish a sustainable model of reuse for your company’s end of life IT equipment. Contact our experts today to find out how!

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