Recycling electronics: the key to combating climate change in the 21st Century

2013.11.25

Electronics Recycling Asia: A panel discussion on 'The future of e-scrap in the digital world'
Electronics Recycling Asia: A panel discussion on ‘The future of e-scrap in the digital world’

Waste is an inevitable and almost integral part of our society. With technological advancement, especially in urban cities, and the fast-paced development of new electronics, we consume large amounts of electronics in our everyday lives.

And that’s just consumption. The short lifespan of electronic equipment, coupled with the constant advancement of software and hardware, we often find ourselves in a never-ending spiral of purchasing more and more devices, upgrades, gizmos and gadgets.

What happens to the old ones?

They are disposed of, of course.

With all the talk about recycling paper, plastics, glass, etc. these days, we’re slowly becoming more self-conscious before we throw an empty bottle into the trash instead of the recycling bin. But have we spared a thought about our old phones and television sets, damaged computers and spoilt gadgets before we throw them down the rubbish chute? Do we think twice before we throw away an old phone that no longer works and buy a new one?

We are all guilty of contributing to electronic waste (e-waste) – yes, all of us, especially those of us who live in developed countries where electronics virtually run our lives.  At the rate we are consuming and disposing of electronics today, electronic waste will simply continue to pile up.

What can we do with a landfill of non-biodegradable electronics? In short: not much.

As we continue to drill deep into our land to extract more natural metals to continue manufacturing new electronics, we are depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate. Not to mention that these activities contribute to greenhouse emissions and climate change.

The only way to stop depleting our scarce natural metals is to recycle e-waste, and to extract and reuse precious metals from the waste in the manufacturing of new electronics. That was the main message at the Electronics Recycling Asia Conference organized by the World Recycling Forum (WRF), held this past week (November 12th-15th) in Singapore.

The conference brought together speakers and participants from the electronics manufacturing industry, government sector and experts on e-waste recycling from all over the world. Companies set up booths to showcase their recycling technologies and expertise, and tours were organized to recycling plants, waste management facilities and landfills across Singapore.

Electronics Recycling Asia: METech International also engages in e-waste management
Electronics Recycling Asia: METech International also engages in e-waste management

One major company at the conference was METech International, which helps corporations manage and recycle their e-waste through recycling raw materials such as copper and plastics,and recover precious metals like gold.

METech obtains unwanted or soon-to-be-disposed-of electronics from end users or corporations and extracts the useful raw materials before selling them back to electronics manufacturers. For devices that can still be used, the company refurbishes them – extending their electronic lifespans – and then re-sells them to consumers at a discounted price.

Although it is not necessarily cheaper for electronics manufacturers to use recycled materials, many are starting to do so based on increased awareness of the environmental costs, said METech’s Executive Chairman Song Tang Yih.

“Because of our scarce and depleting natural resources, we need to drill deeper to extract raw metals. It costs more, both monetarily and environmentally, in the long run,” he said.

Mr. Song went on to explain why METech does its business. “With the fast evolvement of technology, the lifespan of electronics shortens, and more electronic waste is created. We want to address this challenge and contribute to help the environment.”

Like METech, many companies at the conference do similar work in extracting and recycling materials used in electronics.

Electronics Recycling Asia: Presentation by Mr Andreas Krebs from BLUBOX Trading AG, a Swiss-based company that manufactures and sells an integrated plant for mixed lamp and flat screen recycling
Electronics Recycling Asia: Presentation by Mr Andreas Krebs from BLUBOX Trading AG, a Swiss-based company that manufactures and sells an integrated plant for mixed lamp and flat screen recycling

This is definitely a move in the right direction to raise awareness on e-waste and the need to recycle electronics. Manufacturers and corporations are often the main culprits in the electronics sector that contribute to climate change, namely through mining for metal ores and the frequent disposal of large quantities of electronic equipment.

When hardware is upgraded, all the old ones go into the bin as simply as we throw away an old computer at home, only this time, it is multiplied by hundreds or maybe even thousands.

This practice needs to stop. We need to apply the same principles to electronics as we do to paper, plastics and glass – reduce, reuse and recycle.

When raw metals are recycled and precious metals are extracted, it not only halts the depletion of our natural resources, it also reduces the multitude of e-waste in our society. By engaging and involving manufacturers, corporations and even individuals in recycling efforts, we are protecting our environment from sliding further down the slippery slope of destruction.

Reducing e-waste is everyone’s responsibility.

We each have a part to play. Every individual, every household, every office, every corporation in our developed society relies onsomething electronic. We consume and dispose of technology so often that we tend to forget that e-waste may harm the environment. It’s time for all of us to do our parts to recycle and reuse what we can, before we realize that we have insufficient natural metals to last the next generations to come.

Taking care of the environment is crucial. If the state of our environment and climate continue to worsen, it is our future generations who will ultimately suffer and pay the price for our shortsightedness.

WRF is holding the 13th International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC 2014 on January 22 – 24, 2014 in Salzburg, Austria. Around 500 participants are expected, mostly representatives from the industry, authorities and academia, and they can look forward to a series ofconferences, presentations, exhibitions and plant tours to gain insight on recycling electronics. Read about the IERC 2014 here: http://www.icm.ch/ierc-2014

 

Report prepared by Candice

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