The ever-increasing amount of electronic waste being created by societies right across the globe is a growing and serious problem that means we are wasting the Earth's natural resources and expending excessive amounts of energy in replacing discarded items that might have been recycled or repaired and re-used. This electronic waste, or e-waste, is also polluting the planet and causing health problems in places where the e-waste is dumped into landfill sites.
However, the good news is that global efforts are being made to minimize this form of waste – not only by recycling, repairing and re-using, but also through efforts to change our wasteful linear economy into a circular economy that by its very design eliminates waste. So let's take a look at what different countries are doing to tackle this problem.
The European Union has taken a global lead in trying to tackle the problem of e-waste. Back in 2003, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, commonly known as the WEEE Regulations became Law. EU member countries are required to comply with this directive, which defines collection, recycling, and re-use targets for electronic items and electrical goods ranging from small items such as batteries, smartphones and tablets, through laptops, computers and printers, to large household appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators.
Each EU country is required by law to reduce the amount of e-waste they produce but also reduce their e-waste exports, which means they cannot simply ship their e-waste off the developing countries such as China where there are no governing regulations.
They must also recycle minimum quantities of e-waste based on their population size.
In 2008, the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) was established to both manage e-waste and also work towards its significant reduction. eWASA ensures that everyone involved in creating electronic waste, from the manufacturers, distributors and retailers are all responsible for changing consumer habits and establishing a system that produces less waste from electronic items and electrical goods.
Australia & New Zealand
Australia was, in fact, the first country to recognize the growing problem and to start to tackle the e-waste issue. The nation has been working towards a reduction in e-waste since before the turn of the century. Then in 2002, the Australian and New Zealand Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) began to work in collaboration with the computer and television industry to establish the best mechanism for managing unwanted computers and televisions.
In order to encourage re-use of perfectly serviceable computers and their components that are often discarded when a computer is upgraded, Canada imposed a fee on the purchase of new computer components, computers, and televisions. This law has been in place for over 10 years. Canada has also implemented the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations (EIHWHRMR). This directive prevents electronic devices that are not functioning and no longer intact from being exported so that organizations cannot simply shift the responsibility for the disposal of computers and the associated hazards to another, usually less well-developed country.
There are still significant environmental and health problems in China because of a lack of regulation and the tendency for China to accept e-waste from other countries. In fact, it is estimated that a shocking 70% of the world’s e-waste ends up in landfill sites in China where the poor population are risking their health through exposure to materials such as lead and cadmium, by trying to retrieve valuable metals such as copper from old computers and other electrical equipment.
Many other Asian countries such as Japan have strict regulations and require that 75% of their annual production of electronics are recycled.