The e-waste tragedy
25 Oct 2022 /

The e-waste tragedy

The director and scriptwriter Cosima Dannoritzer shocked us in 2011 with her documentary on planned obsolescence, which popularized the expression and confirmed what we suspected: all electronic devices are designed to have a short life, leading us to “buy, throw away, buy”, with the serious environmental consequences that this entails. The documentary had widespread repercussion, it was broadcast in more than 30 countries and won international awards.

Dannoritzer returned to the fray, years later, with “The e-waste tragedy”, where she told us that every year more than 50 million tonnes of electronic waste (computers, telephones, domestic appliances) are discarded in the developed world. More than 50 million tonnes. Of these, 75% disappear from the legal recycling circuits and end up dumped illegally in African and Asian landfill sites, with nefarious consequences for the life and health of local inhabitants, not to mention damage to the planet.

The mass consumption of electronic devices in rich countries has its dark side in the technological junkyard that is drowning the Third World.

The 25% that is recycled legally in authorized plants in Spain is a figure that must be reverted: everything that we do not recycle by taking to a recycling centre is fuel for the illegal trade in waste. As Dannoritzer says, this illegal trafficking in electronic waste, or e-waste, already moves more money than the drug trade.

With these data on the table, electronic recycling is presented as key to recovering materials (glass and plastic) and reintroducing them into the production system, while at the same time reducing the environmental impact of discarding toxic waste. E-waste contains highly polluting heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and chromium which, without the necessary treatments, are lethal for those who handle them in those African landfills. Click here to consult the map of recycling centres and establishments where you can take waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

As a result of this correctly performed recycling there are companies that, aware of the danger and knowing that sustainability is the foundation for any business model that seeks to be durable, have set to work on the manufacture of domestic appliances with recycled materials and biocomposites, as in the case of Beko. Two examples: the washing machine and washer-dryer RecycledTub, manufactured with plastic waste that has been transformed into an alternative raw material (approximately up to 60 0.5L PET bottles). In relationship with the recycling generated since the project was launched in 2017, the company has managed to recycle 58 million plastic bottles with a reduction in CO2 emissions of almost 2,200 tonnes.

The mass consumption of electronic devices in rich countries has its dark side in the technological junkyard that is drowning the Third World.

Electronic recycling only requires awareness and a little willingness by the consumer in order to become integrated in our routines, just like the recycling of paper or plastic by households. Thanks to recycling centres, residents contribute so that this e-waste can be treated, recycled and recovered correctly. These recycling centres are key parts of the circular economy model.

By law, all electronic equipment must be recycled at authorized plants. Those recycling chains in turn enable the correct treatment of e-waste and provide work to people who, protected in this case by safety clothing and masks, handle the materials correctly. Thefts from Recycling Centres and the illegal trade in toxic waste, such as the polluting CFC gases found in refrigerators, for example, release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Containers full of electronic waste from rich countries sail the sea, like bales of drugs, dodging the law, on the one hand giving huge profits to the dealers and, on the other, causing an unstoppable toxic tide in countries such as Ghana, home to one of the largest electronic landfills in the world, Agbogbloshie, in Accra. The consumption of electronic products will not stop, especially in emerging nations, so all that remains is for us to become more aware and act to detain the e-waste tragedy.

The Ecolec foundation managed a total of 15,090 tons of these materials in the Valencia Region during 2021, an increase of 11% over the previous year, when 13,550 tons were managed.

The Ecolec foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses its activity on the recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), managed a total of 15,090 tonnes of these materials in the Valencian Community in 2021. This represented an increase of 11% compared to the previous year, during which 13,550 tonnes were managed, showing the effort made in this respect by residents.