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Going beyond the bin: 8 steps on how to act on recycling e-waste

The “Me&We” of Recycling of e-wastes

If you haven’t already noticed, our life is filled with inventions, in every direction you can think of. As new updates and innovations emerge, one is made to buy a new gadget or upgrade to a latest model, no one wants to feel left behind after all! But along with new gadgets, comes new trash, isn’t it? Wait, wait, wait… is tossing it into a trash bin the only option for an e-waste? Is repairability or recyclability not even an option? Can we not go beyond the bin?

Let’s take one simple example - our smartphone, which breaks down too soon, or gets outdated too soon! We hardly see people being able to repair and re-use them. Most of the phones have a very low repairability index . Once something stops working, it takes a huge cost and skill to repair them. One needs to have different tools to even open up a smartphone. Even if we are successful in opening one, placing it back or replacing the damaged parts is close to impossible. Spare parts are unavailable and every phone model is different. This is purely because companies want to have control over usage and market for new models. Repairability restricts the existing users from buying a new one! All the complexity and cost of repair by a professional, makes most of us lean towards tossing it away and getting a new one instead of repairing them.

I’m sure you have traveled along the toolkit looking at various facts and figures, and you might also question when you start collecting e-waste at home, that most of them are smaller wires, batteries, small devices which do not amount to a very big quantity (most of the time). There is a perceived sense of “less” trash when it comes to e-waste (you would be surprised at how big of an issue it actually is, keep reading!). It has several consequences, one tends to not take it seriously or thinks this doesn't matter much. For e.g., There have been an increasing number of fire incidents reported in the US garbage trucks because people are not disposing batteries in the right bin and as a result they explode during garbage compaction!!

Also, let’s understand the recyclability of e-wastes to begin with. You can see the scale of e-wastes from the above picture and also see how almost 80% is not even collected for recycling. Based on another study, only 17.4% of the e-waste generated worldwide in 2019 was collected and recycled. Only 17.4%. The highest collection and recycling rate was in Europe at 42.5% , the next best rate was at just 11.7% in Asia and Africa was the lowest at just 0.9%. We really need to improve the numbers and divert more recyclables to recycling. Remember if a label on a product says “I’m recyclable”, it doesn't mean “It’s recycled”.

So, this brings us to our next question, what is an e-waste? In the simplest of terms, it is just any device that needs electric power to run or contains electrical or electronic components, but now is unusable! A broad list of e-waste is available in this link. (some examples if you didn't visit the link - home appliances, wires, remote controls, gaming stations, desktops, of course smartphones and its accessories etc).

Now that we have a broader picture of e-wastes and the need for recycling, let us jump into the actionable - the Me & We of recycling e-wastes! What can we as individuals do or what can we as a group of individuals do, when our only option is to throw "away" and there is no scope for repairability?

Let’s get going beyond the bin like a real tech savvy would!

Here’s what we can do

1. “The Me” - As an individual

  1. Stepping up the collection game!

    1. Ensure that all the e-waste produced is disposed away in the right bin or have a dedicated box or a bin to collect them separately as it takes some time to accumulate a quantity that will be viable to dispose at one go.

2. Dispose where it is treated like a resource and not trash!

  1. If you live in a country or a city/town were e-wastes are handled separately and have a dedicated disposal bin, the job to suppose is much easier!

  2. If you live in a country or a city/place where waste management is not so good at policy levels, you have an added responsibility. But we can cover them too!

  3. In most outlets of brand retailers and electronic-only showrooms, or even in bigger malls, there is a high possibility that an “e-waste bin” is stationed. As a first step, keep your eyes open in public places, Spot the bins and mentally store in your database, or add them to our database too.

  4. Whenever you are out with friends and family, take a few e-wastes with you and drop them in the right bins, so that no additional travel would be needed to dispose of them responsibly, unless you have bigger wastes.(you will have to talk to the e-waste bin handlers beforehand, if you are taking bigger screens or so)

  5. At your workplace or your family member’s workplace too, there is a good chance that there is an e-waste bin that can be utilised, the placement of the bin is just waiting to be discovered by the office associates.

3. Formal recycling sectors

  1. In southeast Asia, there are many recycle-enablers that are popping up. This is due to a system where there is little intervention at the governmental level for waste management especially in the global south. There is a growing awareness amongst citizens towards responsible waste management and hence this new market.

  2. These organizations are certified to handle different types of waste, where one can go and drop off their segregated trash, which is usually ensured with recycling or responsibly handled and mostly avoided from going to the landfills. They also do fun pop up stores where if something is reusable is put for a second hand sale as well!

4. Informal recycling sectors

  1. In the Indian subcontinent and its sister countries around, an important and unrecognised informal recycling sector prevails. They are the “local kabadiwala”, who are pillars of informal recycling. They have handled wastes for a very long time and know a lot about what material recovery is, which is an important aspect in e-waste. Help them connect with the real e-waste handlers. This can ensure they don’t run out of business or perhaps they even get better monetary returns than their usual waste handling methods. Understand from them first , what is their usual mode and then suggest an option! (tip specific for Indian subcontinent)

5. “The WE” - As a group of individuals

  1. Collection game!

    1. Incase, there are no “Official” e-waste bins in your regular garbage handling system, You could also try to set up an e-waste bin in your locality or at your home, where people can drop their e-wastes and then in one shot, this can be transported to a responsible handler in a few months’ time(does not need your constant monitoring too as it does not rot, just keep it away from rain)!

    2. If you are a school student, you can try these at your school as well(if the administration approves of course). Since a lot of family members come by to drop the kids to school, it becomes easier to bring the e-waste along to an occasional pop up collection center, say that is organized every 3-4 months maybe. This collection center can be teamed up with a certified e-waste handler.

6. Getting more people on board!

  1. Encourage your workplace colleagues to team up or perhaps your apartment society or your street locality to deal with e-wastes more responsibly (A good chance to get to know the neighbours too!)

    1. Start with setting up common and easily accessible collection bins

    2. Find out your local certified e-waste recycler

    3. Connect your apartment societies or workplace or locals with the recycler and then sign contracts for handling the e-waste.

    4. This makes things simpler by enabling more people at the same time to be more responsible.

    5. Most e-waste handlers will be more than happy to even take orientation sessions and get things started.

7. Petitioning for policy changes together

  1. Raise your voice to implement better policies which support EPR, repairability, resource limitations, improved disposal systems and more. (either online or offline)

  2. There are usually organizations who also simplify the drafted legal laws/policies which are out for public feedback.

    1. Search for organisations that simply laws and regulations for common people. Sign up for their activities(mostly online).

    2. Try raising petitions or find online petitions that need more support to be taken to the masses. Share them and get more people onboard.

  3. Get to know your local governmental heads and prepare yourself to pitch better ideas based on the local context. Do so with consultations of course!

8. Share your earth care!

  1. Try to always celebrate your little wins. Speak to your friends about it, Share your deed on social media to spread awareness, we are vouching for that, to be honest

  2. Add an additional layer to sharing your earth care - Get people together. For e.g., After you share your little wins, you could help people interested in responsible handling of tech trash, help them manage their e-wastes too!

  3. Share the toolkit, use it to sit with your friends or community, broaden the perspectives. More the merrier they say, right?

  4. Always try to have an open mind, listen to the different ideas, some people might be silent warriors creating ripples!

  5. Help improve the toolkit database and encourage others to input their e-waste handler. Here is a collection of links from different countries with e waste recyclers/handlers: Database_e-waste_recyclers.

And think if something is really necessary when buying a new gadget from now on. Always remember the waste hierarchy. Let’s tackle this e-waste issue, one electronic waste at a time .


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