Today’s consumer markets are awash with tons of innumerable electronic devices and gadgets. As new gadgets with cutting edge technology enter the global market, consumers tend to give up on their old electronic devices and move onto the latest gadgets. Check the evolution of handy consumer gadgets over the last few decades – Walkmans and […]Today’s consumer markets are awash with tons of innumerable electronic devices and gadgets. As new gadgets with cutting edge technology enter the global market, consumers tend to give up on their old electronic devices and move onto the latest gadgets. Check the evolution of handy consumer gadgets over the last few decades – Walkmans and audio cassettes – 1970s Video gaming consoles – 1980s Pagers & 2-way radios – 1990s CDs & mobile phones – 2000s Smart phones – 2010s Smart watches and wearable gadgets – 2020s Do you remember using any of these electronic gadgets in the good old days? Can you remind yourself where are they now? Thrown away in the garbage or properly disposed off in an e-waste recycling program? Or have you kept them safely in your closet for posterity? Burgeoning Problem of E-waste According to the UN Global Ewaste Monitor, global e-waste topped 50 million metric tons in 2019, but sadly only 17.4% of that waste was collected properly and recycled. E-waste generation in India is estimated to increase by 500% within this decade and discarded mobiles will be 18 times and TV sets by 2 times. India is already the top 5 nation in terms of generating e-waste worldwide. Too many old electronic gadgets end up in landfills and ewaste graveyards where they poison local communities by leaching into the groundwater. The problem is only getting worse! What is Circular Economy? Currently, we exist in what’s known as a linear economy where we take resources, use them to make something and then dispose of it when we’re done. We need to operate in an economy that prioritizes the principles of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ rather than ‘take, make and dispose’. All natural resources are finite and when we junk electrical items such as mobile phones, white goods and other technological devices, it releases toxic waste into the atmosphere. Most electronic component parts are not biodegradable, meaning they sit in landfills rather than being broken down and absorbed back into the ecosystem. Circular economy is defined as “An economic model that aims to eliminate waste by reusing, repairing, refurbishing gadgets and devices, thus keeping them longer in the productive cycle”. Urban mining is a new concept within the circular economy that offers an eco-friendly way of extracting precious metals and minerals out of electronic devices. E-waste and their recycling process Attero Recycling e-waste – Business Today Materials can’t be reused and recycled if it is impossible to extract them from devices that have stopped functioning. This means that, in a circular economy, technology needs to be designed keeping in mind the end goal of disassembly and regeneration from the outset. A vast majority of devices in the market are extremely miniaturized in such a way that they’re not designed to be repaired or recycled. For instance, Apple AirPods contain tungsten, tin, tantalum, lithium, and cobalt in a tiny sealed plastic shell. Like most Apple products they cannot be repaired, but the lithium-ion battery contained within them makes them a fire hazard in landfill sites. So manufacturers have a primary responsibility of producing easily repairable or recyclable gadgets, which consumers can hand over to authorized e-waste recyclers. Further, the recycling process of electronic waste is quite hazardous. Printed circuit boards are scrapped by acid bath and de-soldering. Plastics used to make keyboards and other components are removed by chemical stripping using hydrochloric acid. Copper wires used in computers are burnt and stripped in the open to obtain copper, thus resulting in severe air pollution. Fortunately, various certified e-waste recycling companies are buying gadgets and processing them responsibly to extract highly valuable raw materials. Sell Refurbished Gadgets Many electronic gadgets are discarded by consumers when they are still in good condition. Consumers could either donate these devices to needy NGOs or resell them back. Companies are offering good incentives to return their used gadgets in exchange for new ones. There are online recycling portals offering simple online electronics trade-in services, which makes it easy for consumers to resell or recycle their used electronic devices. Some of these electronic devices are discarded by companies on large scale when their technology is outdated. This results in an enormous e-waste disposal problem for companies. Remember the time when companies moved on from desktop PCs to laptops in a wholesale manner? Where are those bulky PCs today? This particular problem is faced by government organizations where 2-way radios are used in a big way. Two-way radios are essential communication devices for agencies such as police or forest departments where network congestion or coverage can play a big part. So they tend to regularly upgrade their two-way radio systems to enhance the reliability and interoperability of their wireless communications. When faced with obsolete equipment, organizations can sell off their gadgets to Radiowell, which buys all kinds of used mobile and portable radios, base stations and repeaters. Interestingly, Radiowell not only refurbishes these 2-way radios to be used by other organizations, but also plants trees for each gadget that is handed over to them! Circular economy for climate change mitigation Adopting a circular economy also has the potential to increase our planet’s resilience to the physical effects of climate change. A large portion of our global carbon footprint comes from manufacturing new cars, clothes, gadgets and other products, which can only be tackled through the adoption of the circular economy. When valuable resources are extracted from used gadgets, they reduce the burden on the earth due to reduced mining and metal extraction activities.