Electronics recycling is essentially a way of conserving the environment while generating profit at the same time. It reduces the trash that ends up in landfills by recycling old devices into raw materials for new products. It provides a sustainable option for sourcing precious metals aside from mining the land.
However, like any industry, e-recycling has its challenges which makes it difficult to actualize these benefits. Here are the most prominent difficulties in recycling electronics:
1. End-of-life electronics are often exported to developing countries
At least fifty to eighty percent of electronic waste in the world is exported to developing countries. These countries have e-recycling processors that have lower overhead and operational costs. This means waste trade brokers get more profit from exporting waste than choosing a local recycler.
However, these lower costs result from poor pollution controls that contribute to harmful effects to the country’s environment and health. Furthermore, some exported e-waste are smuggled into these countries to bypass export regulations and prevent problems in waste disposal.
2. Good intentions are not enough for businesses looking to recycle their electronics
Businesses that produce electronic waste are not limited to their responsibility of ensuring that old electronic equipment, devices, and parts are put up for recycling or reuse. They should also ensure that they’re dealing with services that recycle and dispose these items responsibly.
However, many businesses are not aware of the waste trade problem mentioned earlier. They might not know that they are dealing with a waste consolidation service that exports their trash to recyclers without any regard to the environment. They might have good intentions in their actions but they are unknowingly contributing to the problems of the e-recycling industry.
To illustrate, there are excellent standards set by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and other organizations governing US e-recyclers. But, these standards do not matter if eighty percent of e-waste in American soil are exported and processed in countries that do not follow these standards. This results to American e-waste contributing to the pollution caused by poor e-waste recycling.
3. Most electronics are not designed for reuse or recycle
Present practices in manufacturing electronics do not consider the recyclability of components. The current considerations for creating these products only revolve around appeal and profitability.
This results to the use of materials that can make it impossible or difficult to reuse or recycle components and its parts. The best example of these are parts using toxic materials such as the mercury lamps in LCD screens. In some cases, materials can only be down-cycled since they do not provide acceptable raw materials for new electronics.
4. A significant majority of e-waste still goes to the landfill
At the most, only a quarter of the world’s e-waste is collected by electronics recyclers. The rest still end up in landfills. This is due to a lack of e-recycling providers, poor recycling practices, and lack of knowledge regarding electronics recycling.
Recycling electronics into raw materials for new products is a relatively new industry. Its current state has evident lack of standards at the global level. The practices done are also relatively unknown for the average user of a recycling or waste disposal service.
Perhaps in the future, these difficulties finally get solved, resulting in a truly sustainable and secured e-recycling industry to support the heavy manufacturing of electronics.