Greenpeace Highlights The Growing Problem Of Consumer Electronics Waste

It is estimated that during 2014 there will be 2.5 billion mobiles, tablets and computers purchased and it is expected there will be more internet connected devices than people on the planet. As the number of connected devices we own sky rockets it becomes more important than ever to understand how they are made and how they are disposed.

Thanks to lobbying from public campaigns and pressure from customers since 2006, the big electronics manufacturers have been going in the right directions. Some devices are more efficient and now contain less hazardous material. The problem however is many of the leading names have not acted with the kind of intensity needed to fight the increasing environmental footprint. For example in 2012 electronic devices created nearly 8kg of e-waste for every individual on earth. In the absence of truly innovative solutions from the industry the environmental impact of our devices will continue to rise.

The Problems

If the consumer electronics industry is to do something about a growing environmental footprint, there are three major issues that need to be urgently fixed.

1) E-waste

Producing billions of devices with a life span of just a couple of years is a) incredibly wasteful and b) incredibly resource intensive particularly if all the raw materials, energy and chemicals used in electronics are discarded as e-waste.

2) Toxic Truth

Many of the substances that are used in manufacturing are hazardous and can end up damaging both the environment and human health, particularly in manufacturing centres in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

3) Designed for the dump

Most consumer electronics products are designed for obsolescence with very little ability to upgrade or repair which fuels a disposable culture that produces greater consumption of resources and creates a mountain of waste.

The Solutions

There are some solutions out there and some companies say they know what needs to done.

1) An Energy Revolution

The key to cutting back on the environmental footprint of our products is increasing the use of renewable energy in manufacturing. For example Apple is constructing the first electronic component manufacturing facility in the world that will be powered by renewable energy. With the adoption of solar power growing fast wouldn’t it be great if we could claim that our devices were made using 100% renewable energy.

2) A Toxic-Free Future

Approximately 50 per cent of the market for mobile phones are now free of the worst offending hazardous chemicals. This growth is astonishing given that in 2006 the percentage was zero. But what if manufacturers extended the same thinking to all their products and followed the example given by the clothing industry which has detoxified its entire supply chain. The goal is possible and our devices should not cost human health or the safety of future generations.

3) Design innovation: Products made to last

The industry must migrate to producing products with a longer lifespan and that are more easy to upgrade and repair. As an increasing number of devices are sold, we should ensure we are able to get the most out of the energy and resources used in manufacturing electronic devices.

Designing the future

With the support of ordinary citizens, Greenpeace will continue to challenge the consumer electronics industry which is renowned for being forward thinking and fast moving to live up to its reputation. Using their vast resources, these companies have the potential to produce devices that are not only perfectly designed for the consumer but for the planet as well.

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