In many Western countries there are now more active mobile phones, tablets, and laptops than people, and it has been suggested that the average person will own a whopping 6.58 devices in 2020. But with the increase in electronic devices comes a growth in electronic waste.
According to Pike Research, the number of electronic devices at end-of-life will double from 2010 to 2025, and it is estimated that as much as 60 million tons of e-waste could end up as landfill in developing countries in 2013 – a practice known as “dirty dumping”.
When burned, this e-waste releases toxic chemicals into the air, putting people in local communities at risk of serious illness. Heavy metals including chromium, cadmium, lead, zinc, and nickel also leach from the abandoned equipment and contaminate local water supplies.
British environmental law states that broken electronics – from fridges to televisions and computer monitors – should be responsibly recycled within the UK. Discarded electronics need to be tested to ensure they work before they can be legally exported for resale, usually to the developing world.
However, illegal exporters of waste electronic equipment are able to bypass these regulations by falsely labelling the equipment as “donations,” and even second-hand equipment that is repaired and subsequently sold on to consumers tends to have a short lifespan of two or three years.
In order to meet demand for more environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of end-of-life electronic equipment, ICT services firm Dimension Data has launched an e-waste removal service that helps organisations work out which devices can be reused and recycled, and adopt a standard approach to the removal of redundant equipment.
Dimension Data says that the two priorities for organisations when removing e-waste are making sure that it is disposed in the most ecological and regulatory-compliant manner across all global sites, and ensuring that the company's security and brand are not negatively impacted.
The service, which is part of Dimension data's newly expanded Technology Lifecycle Management Assessment, includes a thorough assessment of the organisation’s installed base and the development of a single plan for removing e-waste globally, which means avoiding the hassle of having to outsource and review e-waste removal services and regulations in each location.
Dimension Data partners with approved, global e-waste providers who pledge their commitment to ethical e-waste handling. The company also claims to offer security expertise to manage the potential risk of data breach.
“Expanding our Technology Lifecycle Management Assessment to include an e-waste solution means our expert advice doesn’t start at the point of disposal,” said Colin Curtis, Dimension Data’s director of sustainability.
“We can now assess the strength of each item in a technology base, determine its point in the lifecycle, and then use best practices to dispose of elapsed devices and equipment in an ecological and regulatory-compliant manner. In addition, the organisation’s security and brand are not negatively impacted.”
Similar services are offered by the likes of e-waste management company WEEE Systems and IT charity Computer Aid.
Earlier this year, the European Commission updated the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, stating that by 2015, it 75 percent of e-waste must be recovered and 65 percent of it recycled. This rises to 85 percent recovery in 2020.
The revised directive also includes a clampdown on illegal exports of waste electronic equipment. Equipment that is no longer under warranty can only be exported to non-OECD countries if it has been certified to be fully functional and sent properly.
“In these times of economic turmoil and rising prices for raw materials, resource efficiency is where environmental benefits and innovative growth opportunities come together,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.
“We now need to open new collection channels for electronic waste and improve the effectiveness of existing ones. I encourage the Member States to meet these new targets before the formal deadline.”
The UN have also agreed on plans to reduce e-waste with eighteen African countries. The plans include identifying the training of various authorities responsible for monitoring and screening of legal trade of used equipment, as well as the detection and prevention of illegal movement of e-waste.