Monday, November 13, 2017

E-Waste Disposal A Major Failure Of And By Government

For both political and economic reasons, poor recycling practices continue to haunt America and most of the world.  The message or call that we should conserve our natural resources is vastly understated. It seems many environmentalists are asleep at the wheel and busy nibbling around the edges of problems while massive abuses go unaddressed. While worrying about recycling things such as paper and plastic water-bottles they miss more important areas. When we look at the amount of trash and rubbish created by developed nations an area where our failures are particularly glaring is in the recycling efforts, or better said, the lack of recycling efforts in the area of what is known as e-waste.  Both an increase in population, as well as the growth of electronic devices per-capita, has created a disposal issue that the world has yet to address.

America's Sad Solution To E-Waste Disposal Falls Short
While issues like global warming make headlines the quantity of e-waste being generated has been on the rise, the total amount of e-waste produced is expected to reach 50 million tons in 2018, nearly 50 percent more than in 2010. The discarded products collectively known as e-waste include cell phones, TVs, air conditioners, appliances, computers, and solar panels. The sad truth is most are not recycled. There are two interconnected aspects to this global problem: a lack of awareness among the general public for the need to recycle e-waste, and a scarcity of sustainable options to actually do so.

To highlight just how pathetic society's efforts have been to address this problem and what a low priority this is I point to a recent announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which recently announced it had awarded $100,000 to New York-based firm Advanced Recovery and Recycling, LLC. This money is to be used by the firm to continue its development of an efficient technology that recycles circuit board components. The firm’s innovation automatically and rapidly removes electronic parts from printed circuit boards, which are found in virtually all electronics. “This is accomplished without burning, smelting, or using chemicals, which reduces air pollution and electronic waste in landfills and incinerators,” the EPA stated. If the technology becomes commercially viable, the firm will be able to apply for a second federal grant of up to $300,000 to bring it to market.
It is apparent America's EPA cares little about stopping the source of future pollution yet is willing to spend billions on the back end trying to clean it up after it occurs. E-waste products contain heavy metals and when improperly disposed of they can leak toxins into the environment and water supply or into the air, in the case of incineration. Ironically, it is often the laws that exist in countries like America that are designed to protect the environment that make it very difficult to legally breakdown and recycle e-waste items. In fact, government rules as to how e-waste is handled, disposed of, and recycled add to and greatly limit the amount that is recycled.

The bottom-line is nobody wants to get involved with recycling the hard to deal with items because the government has made it so difficult to legally recycle these products within its so-called "safe" parameters. This means that business steers clear of this market because of the massive liabilities. Because precise figures do not currently exist, we have no clear picture exactly where all these discarded items come to rest. Shipping records indicate West Africa is one of the regions harmed most by e-waste, shipping records indicate large quantities of e-waste from around the world are dumped there, often illegally. Shortsighted manufacturers, governments, and consumers have created and greatly added to the problem of properly dealing with e-waste. It is obvious much of this could be addressed by the EPA stepping in and passing a law protecting and directing recycling firms on how best to process obsolete units rather than insisting this problem be swept under a rug. Recycling these items in a good way, if it cannot be done in a perfect way, is far better than our current solution.

The most encouraging news for e-waste recycling is that it can be done profitably.  The potential of this so-called “urban mining” is enormous—the U.N. report estimated that the intrinsic material value of global e-waste was $54.5 billion in 2014, principally from gold, copper, and plastics. And as far as mining prospects go, e-waste is one of the better ones, especially when there are smartphones in the mix. According to 911 Metallurgist, a ton of recycled iPhones yield about 324 times more gold than a ton of ore from Peru’s Yanacocha gold mine, and 13 times more copper than a ton of ore from Chile’s Escondida copper mine. Another valuable component in smartphones is rare earth elements, these could also be pulled out and reused. Currently, less than 1% of REEs are recycled, so reusing them would not only save money but lessen global dependence on China the vast producer of a majority of the world’s REEs.

Some Recycling Methods Better Than Others
Granted, there are also toxic materials including lead and mercury in e-waste, that much processing and refining are necessary to extract the useful elements. But in aggregate and individually, the prize is very appealing. The report states that the gold content from e-waste in 2014 is roughly 300 tons, which represents 11% of the global gold production from mines in 2013. Still, the fact remains that many people simply don't care how they dispose of their e-waste so they slip it into the trash sending it to a landfill even though it is illegal in many states. This means it might be wise to increase efforts to collect e-waste and form massive holding areas where it can be stored until better recycling technology becomes available.

Many people might be surprised to find it is the Chinese government and local NGOs have been taking the challenge of e-waste most seriously. In 2013 China reported that it had recycled 28% of its e-waste in state-of-the-art facilities, a higher share than in the U.S. and Canada (12%) and Australia (1%). Since it began in 2012, a “Green IT Classrooms” program by Chinese NGO Netspring claims to have enabled the recycling of more than 20 tons of e-waste while providing IT education to more than 20,000 underprivileged kids. Likewise, India is trying to rein in and recycle its e-waste before things get out of hand. By 2020 the country predicts that it could recover some $4 billion from recycling its e-waste.

The Swedish firm Ericsson has proven gathering e-waste for recycling need not be difficult. For example, they recently launched the campaign to drive the awareness and collection of e-waste in an African country. An e-waste collection station opened to the public at Sorbonne Plateau in the capital Abidjan for a period of four months with a 20-foot container serving as the collection depot. Citizens were encouraged to bring in old phones, computers and other electronic equipment to be disposed of in a safe and responsible manner. The container in effect acted as an education and awareness center manned by volunteers. At the close of the campaign, collected e-waste will be transported to an Ericsson-approved recycling partner in Durban, South Africa. Ericsson has made taking back and recycling its obsolete products a key part of its business– it provides free product retrieval and safe disposal services to all customers globally. The firm claims that when it takes back its products, over 98% of the materials are recycled. Ericsson’s “ecology management program” continues to expand its reach since it started in 2005 the program has taken back e-waste from more than 107 countries.

Most E-waste Is Dumped Or Buried And Not Recycled
Fortunately for concerned consumers, there are more and more opportunities to properly dispose of e-waste, much of which will be recycled. In the U.S. events put on by municipalities, businesses, and non-profits like the Boy Scouts, which typically accept e-waste free of charge. Presently, not all of these collection drives are free, have quantity limits, and some don’t accept all kinds of e-waste. It has become increasingly clear that many consumers are not willing to pay to dispose of e-waste junk, so the trend is for e-waste collection to be free and all-inclusive. And particularly as e-waste catches on as a source material for extracting valuable materials, firms will be eager to offer to recycle for free, since they will ultimately be earning money. Combined with reducing landfill intakes and environmental pollution, this is a growth industry that’s win-win for everyone.

A co-author of a recent study on Europe’s e-waste recycling potential thinks that recycled e-waste could eventually replace much of the virgin material currently coming from mines. This would require more top-down policy, meaning governments should collectively initiate a global directive to drive such an agenda. If life on this planet is to be sustainable resource efficiency and recovery should be embedded into every business and supply chain. As demand for recycled materials increases, and as more countries start to make manufacturers responsible for dealing with e-waste at the end of a products life, more designers would also start to change designs with recycling in mind. When products are designed so that they can be easily dismantled and disassembled for recycling it streamlines the path to sustainability reducing the need for energy in recycling downstream. While the way we are currently handling e-waste may fall short of being considered a "sin" it is indeed a slap in the face of mother nature.


Footnote; Interestingly the link for more information on the company the EPA gave a grant to has recently turned into a dead end. I have over time written several articles on the subject of the environment and sustainability below is the link to one of the most popular. As usual, your comments are welcome and encouraged.
 http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2012/04/whats-in-footprint.html

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