Responsible management of electronic waste is rapidly becoming one of the 21st Century’s greatest challenges. Only 20% of the world’s e-waste is currently being recycled, and as much as 40 million tonnes of waste is either ending up in landfill or, worse still, being burned or disposed of in ways that pose dangers to both our health and our environment. Shining a spotlight on this issue is a priority for all of us; indeed, The Global E-waste Monitor – 2017 suggests that by 2021, the world could see this figure rise to as much as 57.5 million tons.
Fittingly then, the primary focus of the hugely successful first International E-Waste Day on October 13, organised by The WEEE Forum, was raising public awareness, and the organisers have been absolutely delighted by the extent of participation (with involvement from 30 countries), and also with the range of events on offer. This was a day when inventive campaigns encouraged engagement and fostered vital education about this globally important issue.
In New Delhi, India, a conference on e-waste focused on recycling, while in Malta, a seminar engaged with the very specific problems posed by e-waste in an island environment. In Poland, street collection points in Warsaw educated the public about effective and ethical disposal of household items, and in numerous countries, social media campaigns highlighted recycling and responsible e-waste disposal. Closer to home, WEEE Ireland ran a campaign in schools urging young people (and, hopefully, their parents too) to recycle their old mobile phones by means of a pilot data destruction project.
Getting children and young adults involved has been a particularly positive outcome. A photo contest in Lithuania aimed at school children called ‘Exposure from Electronics Waste’, involved more than 2,220 institutions. A game called ‘Raw Material Hunt’, in which the aim is to sell as many electrical appliances as possible in an ecologically and socially responsible manner – such as through using refurbished IT equipment – kept secondary school children in Belgium busy. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, primary school pupils were entertained by a comic book educating them about e-waste issues in a fun and accessible way.
All of these initiatives are aimed at getting us to really think about our own behaviours when it comes to e-waste, be it on a smaller domestic level, or in commercial settings. As our lives become increasingly dependent on technologies which have a limited lifespan; we are all, inevitably, producing more and more e-waste. We routinely upgrade our phones, change our laptops and decommission old devices like fridges and printers without thinking about where these items end up, and what the impact of this can be on the world in which we live.
Plenty of us have a secret stash in our garage or loft that we have always meant to deal with, and many businesses have store rooms piled high with old devices that need clearing out? Particularly in big cities like Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol, recycling IT equipment and using refurbished laptops and computers would be an excellent way to build on the success of International E-Waste Day and achieve secure IT asset disposal and recycling.