A look at solving the e-recycling problem
It’s a growing problem with no easy solution: with the expansion of technology, an increasing amount of electronics waste is ending up in developing countries such as Ghana, India and parts of China. Most of this e-waste comes from the US and Europe, while only a small amount of it is produced locally. Africa is seeing a slightly different trend, where the burgeoning access to PCs and cell phones is creating a domestic e-waste problem. According to the UN Africa will produce more E-waste than Europe by 2017.
Although under the Basel Convention, the export of hazardous materials to other countries is prohibited, waste electrical items are routinely exported as functioning equipment or bundled with other products such as used cars. There is potential benefit to be found as most of the products are stripped to get at the high-value metals such as copper and gold. However, the toxicity of these materials directly and significantly affect the health of the people involved and pollute the landscape, soil and water for years to come. In these developing areas there are virtually no locations where the products can be processed and recycled in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. In response to this illegal dumping and the hazards it presents, many countries have put programs and legislation in place to manage waste recycling. The WEEE Directive, which puts recycling goals in place, and RoHS, which restricts certain materials use in the manufacturing of electronics, is two examples. Recognizing the problem and the opportunity to play a part in solving it, many of the largest consumer electronics companies, including HP and Samsung, have set up recycling and take back programs that manage and audit the returns and recycling process so the products are dealt with in an environmentally responsible way.
Going a step further, ModusLink is working with several entrepreneurial companies that have developed various business models based on managing the return, reuse and recycling of electronics. They represent a merging of sound business opportunity, social responsibility and even humanitarian effort in bridging the digital divide with lower cost refurbished products.
For companies looking to develop programs, several best practice points to consider include:
- Where the WEEE Directive is in place, join the local recycling group.
- Where legislation is not in place, adhere to guidelines set up by the Basel convention on the certification and testing of waste electrical equipment and get any waste recycled in a certified manner.
- Set up an accessible and efficient reverse supply chain in your country of operation.
- Work with retail and distributor channels to incentivise customers to recycle when purchasing new products.
Is your company addressing this issue in a new, unique way? Tell us about it.