There is a major hurdle when it comes to disposing of electronic waste, and the best interpretation of the issue is that we have made the perfect enemy of the good. The most noticeable symptom of the existing problem is that there is no place left to discard e-waste safely anymore.
Present-day zeitgeist argues about the significance of sustainable development and that everything should be recycled— and here lies the biggest problem. Some items should most definitely be recycled, others reused. However, there should also be a diversion in the system accounting for new products that are used once or twice and then discarded. It is only by switching to such a structure that our planet will be able to solve ever burgeoning e-waste management problems.
Plastics and electronics are often sent to China or poorer countries with inadequate e-waste disposal measures. China has lately conveyed that it no longer wishes to import such waste and those poorer nations are following legal suits as well— the most recent one to join the league is Thailand.
The driving force behind the recycling mania is the belief that there is a shortage of resources, and hence, they need to be reused. With some minerals, that might hold true; however, it doesn’t apply to all.
The Biggest Predicament— to recycle or not to recycle
If there is a profit-making probability from reusing or recycling goods, then it must be done. The benefit itself is testimony that the value of the output is greater than the input.
How Recycling is beneficial
We rely on 100% recycling, and that’s why e-waste is sent overseas, where the stringent rules don’t apply. Of course, there is tremendous capital lying in those piles of computer hardware waste. There’s gold embedded in chips and connectors, tin in solder, copper in motherboards; it’s not hard to remove them nor profitless. But there are sections leftover after benefit is derived, which are either hard to recycle or not profitable enough.
Bottlenecks en route
Attempting to recycle 100% instead of just doing a good enough job is costing the planet dearly. For instance, take the case of fiberglass in motherboards— it can also be utilized, but it’s often a loss-bearing endeavour to extract. The plastics, however, are meant to go into the kiln. Anyone contemplating to extract lead from CRT glass needs to rethink – the landfill is the place for it.
In short, there is adequate equipment and technology in the developed countries to take care of extraction without force shipping the ‘waste’ to poor nations. Unfortunately, businesses have completely bought a 100% recycling or 100% dumping mantra, which closes them to other possibilities.
Finding the middle path
Recycling ‘everything’ is not a viable alternative. Creating value through action is what generates wealth; it is the very concept of the creating economic capital.
For instance— recycling aluminium (the energy embedded in the metal itself is valuable) or iron and steel is yielding and much cheaper than producing new metal from virgin ores— so this is something that must be done.
In a similar sense, recycling goods where the probability of suffering a loss is greater should be avoided. It makes sense only if there’s a third excuse to do it. For instance, recycling radioactive materials might make a rattling loss, but it is still a perfectly fine to go ahead with it. Having said that, recycling only for the sake of recycling can’t be termed as a wise move – there has to be a sound reason for carrying out the operation.
How to make e-waste profitable
Too much emphasis on shipping the waste to poorer nations can have its adverse effects sometimes. Take a case of burning plastic in the open field with a naked flame. This is indeed fantastic means to poison people and also to produce dioxins for a deeper and longer-lasting crisis. What are required are the high-temperature furnaces that only rich countries have.
The truth of the matter for e-waste is that if there is a pile of it in one location, it’s profitable – that is, companies are adding value – to recycle it to a point. It is fair and rational that businesses do so only to that extent since that is what makes them wealthier.
The solution lies in refundable deposit, whereby each electronics unit sold has a small deposit (a few pounds) attached to it. Returning the device to the collection point would refund the few pounds of deposit.
The way forward
These days, corporations know how to collect waste; they also know how to recycle it to a certain point without defiling it. However, businesses also need to be able to dump any scrap that is not worth Recycling. Also, the world seems to be running out of places to send e-waste. So, maybe it’s time to consider building a rational e-waste management system that doesn’t gravitate towards a fixed solution—either dumping or recycling. The decision should be based on the factors such as demand of the situation, business merit, as well as environmental effects.