29th November 2021
Material Focus estimates that as a result of Black Friday and Cyber Monday 5 million electrical items will either be thrown away or will simply be hoarded unused in a drawer or at the back of the cupboard.
What makes us so wasteful?
Is it the power of advertising? Is it the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’? Can we not create an alternative fashion message that says sustainability is best, that longevity is beautiful, that minimalism is key?
Is it the lure of cheap bargains?
But perhaps they’re only cheap for those who buy now, with purchasers during the rest of the year making up the shortfall via higher prices? Perhaps only cheap when we don’t take into account the cost arising from damage to the environment? Perhaps only cheap because large numbers of the workforce have received pitifully low wages?
Is it the built in obsolescence of the items we buy? Phones whose batteries die after a few years? Software that can’t be updated? Things that cannot be repaired?
All this electrical and electronic waste is termed e-waste*, waste that ends up in landfill sites. There it can be a cause of pollution as poisonous chemicals leak out into the soil and water systems. And at the same time, it throws away valuable metals such as gold and silver, platinum, copper and cobalt, necessitating the mining of such metals in parts of the world where the safety of the workers and the environment receive little attention. (Maybe in years to come we shall be excavating land fill sites to recover valuable re sources.)
Globally the UK is one of the biggest producers of e-waste, second only to
Norway. Each of us on average generates some 23kg of e-waste whilst the European average is just 16kg. We might think e-waste is dominated by last year’s iPhone but surprisingly it is items like kettles and irons that contribute most. Perhaps these are items are not designed to have a long life, or maybe because they’re are relatively cheap we don’t bother repairing them.
How can we reduce e-waste?
- We can continue to use the items we already rather than being swayed into upgrading to the next model.
- We can seek to repair items when they break. We can find a professional repairer to do this or we can carry out our own repair (but don’t fiddle with the electrical wires and connections etc unless you are qualified: in correctly wired appliances can kill). The Restart project based in London has both a directory of repairers –https://therestartproject.org/repairdirectory/ – and offers Repair Parties where people can be guided to carry out simple repairs – https://therestartproject.org/
- We can also make sure that we maintain what we own: descaling kettles and irons, cleaning touch screens, removing fluff from washing machines etc.
- If we have items that work but which we no longer need, we can pass them on to someone who will use them, either through free cycle web sites, eBay, or by donating them to charities. This particularly applies to smart phones, tablets, laptops plus cables and chargers. Again Restart can direct you accordingly – https://therestartproject.org/where-to-donate-your-computer/
- When items become un-useable they should not go into landfill but be recycled. This is becoming increasingly easy – https://www.recycleyourelectricals.org.uk/electrical-recycling-near-me/ Here in the Borough of Richmond, small electrical items can be recycled at local libraries whilst bigger items can be taken to the Townmead Recycling Centre. Electrical items large and small can also be recycled at Curry’s PC World store in Twickenham.
- We can campaign, asking manufacturers to produce items that are durable and repairable – check out this web site – https://10yearphone.com/.
- We can also continue to press the government to legislate for a circular economy. This YouTube clip shows that progress is being made – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90k2Tk-BUIA
*(I feel there should be another e-waste descriptor for electronic junk mail, all those unwanted adverts, the photos we store in the cloud and never look at, films and books we download but don’t watch or read, the unnecessary emails we send – especially those long chains of emails that don’t need to re-forward the previous messages, or the send-all emails when only a few people need the message! These all have their own – albeit small – carbon footprint).