E-Waste Renaissance: Breathing New Life into the Tech Industry

The dizzying speed in which the tech industry has been evolving these past few decades has created a towering mountain of thrown electrical appliances, even the ones whose mechanisms are still unmarred. These electrical junks go by the name of E-Waste, which refers to discarded, recycled, or refurbished electrical and electronic products. Electronic waste comprises not only smartphones, but also other appliances, such as microwaves, DVDs, or even the dying light bulbs that your dad recently decided to toss out. With approximately 52.6Mt of e-waste filling up the landfills each year, only 17.4% is recycled on a global basis. It is projected that this amount will surpass 74Mt by 2030 if not handled with all possible haste and care. Quite an alarming state we are in don’t you think?

In this ever-accelerating realm of technological usage, most of these electronic wastes undergo improper recycling, and in turn release a cocktail of harmful chemicals—like lead and mercury—into clean air, water, and soil. These toxins pose significant health risks, especially to vulnerable groups, like pregnant women and children. Moreover, improper disposal methods—dumping and burning electronic waste—exacerbate environmental pollution, consequently impacting communities both near and far. Adding to the complexity, some affluent nations choose to send their electronic waste to poorer countries that lack proper regulations, further endangering lives. Thus, this is our cue to take action and bring some enlightenment to the current poor management of e-waste, as a way of transitioning to a period we refer to as the “E-Waste Renaissance”. Surely businesses can help alleviate this issue in several ways, but how? If it’s possible, will there be challenges in implementing those models? And can a tech downturn actually accelerate the journey to the E-Waste Renaissance? Find out more down below!

To deal with this intricate problem related to e-waste, experts have introduced the Circular Business Model (CBM), a strategic approach to managing e-waste that aims to extend the life of products, thereby recovering value from used commodities at the end of their service life. This model includes several basic strategies that can help enhance business capabilities and competitiveness. Starting off with the Product-as-a-Service (PaaS) model in which customers pay a fee to use a product without any transfer of ownership. For instance, the multinational lighting corporation, Philips,—who once said, “Why buy light bulbs when you can buy light?”—provides luminaires under contract with mere monthly payments for performance. PaaS incentivized businesses to create products that incorporate modularity and durability, hence encouraging prolonged usage and ultimately conserving resources. Next in line are the Product Life Extension (PLE) model which prompts businesses to manufacture products with higher durability and the Design for Recycling (DFR) model where businesses employing this approach optimize recoverability of materials in the manufacturing process. Together, they help reshape the future of e-waste one sustainable practice at a time!

In spite of the constant growth, tech also faces periodic challenges, there will be a point where the tech industry hits the pause button that leads to a slowdown in advancement known as the “Tech Downturn”. Though this might be bad for the tech industry itself, it serves a point in time to reevaluate what we can do with e-waste. An occurrence that can be referred to as the ‘E-Waste Renaissance.’ This period urges a constant reevaluation of our approach toward old electronic devices. The link between economic challenges in this sector—particularly a tech downturn—, and the management of electronic waste becomes more apparent. Reduced spending on new tech during these downturns results in a buildup of old gadgets, prompting the question: Are there ways to responsibly handle this mess? During tech downturns, when people are less inclined to invest in new devices and lessen the need for technology, existing electronics linger longer. This extended use results in a sort of buildup of outdated gadgets, leading to a need for sustainable solutions. The tech downturn becomes a pivotal moment, pushing us to confront the environmental consequences of our choices.

Nevertheless, managing e-waste is undoubtedly easier said than done. Interface—a commercial flooring company—once decided to shift its business model from selling to leasing carpets. Despite the company’s vision to be “the first sustainable corporation in the world”, this model proved to be a dead loss in the market as customers preferred owning their carpets. Now imagine this for electrical gadgets—such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets—where people are inclined towards having their own gadgets rather than renting them from companies, thus making it harder to minimize gadget turnover. Other challenges in managing e-waste include lack of recycling infrastructure, high costs, and recycling difficulties that result from product complexity, data security concerns, et cetera. As we confront the daunting challenges of e-waste, putting sustainable practices to use becomes our last-ditch effort to ensure success in achieving the E-Waste Renaissance that aims to cultivate a healthier environment for future generations and enable businesses to remain competitive in this dynamic landscape.


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