A post by guest blogger Thomas O’Rourke.
“Going green” is a powerful way to support the WEEE recycling initiatives of 2005 and the Directive of 2007. While government policy has tried to address the serious problem of e-waste management in the UK, unfortunately, much more needs to be done to successfully contain the 1–2 million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment discarded by Britons last year. Although a significant number of those mobile phones, TVs, computers, electric tools and appliances were still operable, less than 15% were actually recycled. In 2010 alone, more than 27 million new cell phones were purchased in the UK, usually not because they were better instruments of conversation, but because they carried extra capabilities and intriguing features.
This craving for the newest technology is not wrong in itself, but behind it lies a wasteland of unwanted, unappreciated electrical devices. It is estimated that within 10 years the landfills of the UK will be filled to capacity. Where will this country put the equivalent of 150,000 double-decker buses of hazardous e-waste each year? Actually, the volume is increasing at a rate of about 5% per year, a warning that the total quantity could be even larger.
The focus of the WEEE Directive is to place responsibility for this pollution squarely upon the shoulders of manufacturers, importers, retailers and distributors. They are now required to accept any returned electronic equipment purchased since 2005. However, not all businesses have chosen to set up their own recycling stations. Some contribute to government-licensed businesses that handle the inspecting of equipment, destroying of information, stripping of useful parts, treating for hazardous materials and reusing or recycling. These companies are scattered conveniently throughout the UK and must accept recyclable e-waste at no charge, although there may be some expense if they are asked to come and pick up items.
It is to the advantage of private citizens, organisations such as hospitals and schools, local governments and businesses of all types to go green and get behind the WEEE recycling initiative for several reasons:
1. There are only so many landfills unless you want one in your backyard. Cutting back on the volume of WEEE is crucial to minimising the amount of dumping space necessary for these non-biodegradable materials.
2. With as many as 100 different potentially toxic substances in the average computer, how many of them do you want leaching into landfill soil and surrounding water tables? Lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic are frequently found in WEEE discards.
3. Conserving resources just makes sense in a world with an ever increasing population. Why should richer nations have the inherent luxury of wasting natural or man-made resources? Each mobile phone that is kept in use for another year of two is one less new one to be purchased and one less old one to be thrown away. Better yet, a cell phone that is used and then donated to someone who can’t afford one is like a gift that keeps on giving.
4. Citizens of the UK and the rest of the world need to think globally. What impacts one country may well impact others. The 50 million tonnes of e-waste produced globally is a critical problem. Dumping it into third world, developing countries where it ruins both the environment and the lives of people living near dismantling sites is inconsiderate at the least and blatantly unjust at the worst.
5. WEEE recycling is a healthier response to excessive electronic waste. What can be reused should be; what can be broken down, cleaned and repurposed will save money and resources. Living more conservatively and making electrical equipment last longer allows more income to spend on other budget items of importance, including healthy living, education and charity giving.
6. Being proactive now and participating in WEEE recycling is a way to protect the future for the next generations. A clean, safe environment is the best gift you can give your children and grandchildren.
When an entire nation has the same mind-set, serious change can happen without sacrificing the wonderful benefits of modern technology. If businesses buy into the idea of shared responsibility and curb the temptation to make a quick pound by shipping WEEE out on the black market, the practice of sending e-waste pollutants to poor countries can be drastically reduced. By the same token, if individuals begin to take the time to consume less, to recycle as much as possible and to support businesses that are trying to go green, the UK will begin making significant strides in WEEE recycling.