From the Viewsroom

Tsunami of e-waste

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on June 28, 2021

Time to hold tech-companies to higher standards of sustainability

It’s not uncommon to see people obsess over a new phone and its features. The convenience of having your music and money, for instance, accessible in a palm-sized device is quite undisputable. But there’s a dark side.

When these gizmos die, they land up in digital dump-yards — health hazards for the young. Several children, adolescents and young women work at e-waste recycling sites. And “since e-waste is the world’s fastest growing waste stream, increasing three times faster than the world’s population, many of these jobs, formal or informal, will be in e-waste processing,”says the World Health Organization in its first comprehensive document on this.

In Africa, Asia, Latin America and parts of Europe, the young are put to work to extract precious metals like gold from computer chips and copper from cables by burning devices or using toxic chemical baths, the report says. This exposes them to dangerous chemicals like mercury, lead, dioxins and flame retardants. Our homes contribute to the “tsunami of e-waste” through mobile phones, discarded computers, televisions, video and voice recorders, etc. And we go through many of these in a lifetime, with the turnover time only becoming shorter.

The 1970s generation will recall how homes owned a casette-recorder or record-player that lasted through childhood and beyond. Brands had a legacy of durability. Today, tech-brands seem to pride themselves on the absence of durability. Don’t expect anything — phone, music system, laptop, mouse — to last, let alone for long. Worse, there is no concept of repair or replacement. Irreparability is built into the design and replacement stocks are whittled down.

So, we “upgrade” to the next generation of the same product, as the company wants us to. And debris from this goes into a landfill, in a low or middle income country. Maybe it’s time to hold electronic companies to higher sustainability standards and force them to put their best brains behind making cool durable products, again.

Published on June 27, 2021

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