Today marks the third year of international E-Waste Day and the theme for 2020 is education. We explore the challenge that e-waste poses and how education plays a central role in overcoming it.
Why is e-waste a problem?
As our lives become more electronic, the products we use and throw away will follow suit. E-waste includes discarded electronic items such as computers, televisions, household appliances. Unfortunately, the materials that make up these products are rarely biodegradable and must be disposed of responsibly.
There is legislation in place to make sure this happens and 71% of people live in countries with such legislation. Despite this, the amount of e-waste going to landfill, being illegally traded or simply burned is increasing. Last year, the world produced 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) – setting a new record. That number looks set to grow to 74 million Mt by the end of the decade.
Compared with other types of waste, electronic waste is the fastest growing source, having increased by 21% in the last five years.
The dangers of e-waste are more sinister than other forms of commercial and domestic waste. The materials used in their construction, which can leak in their disposal, are often highly toxic to both people and the environment. Among these elements, commonly found culprits include cadmium, lead and mercury.
Improper disposal often occurs in developing countries and last year’s e-waste total had a value in excess of $50bn. As a result, lucrative salvage efforts will continue to bring people into regular contact with these toxins unless something changes.
The WEEE Forum
WEEE is the world’s largest non-profit centre for the management of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The association boasts 40 global producer responsibility organisations. In 2018, this alliance began the International E-Waste Day to raise awareness of the e-waste problem and its efforts to combat it – as well as pick up further support from other like-minded groups.
Within a year, the WEEE Forum had engagement from 112 more organisations across 48 countries. Last October 14th, the group took part in activities to raise awareness both physically and online.
The chosen theme for 2020 is education with the WEEE stating that:
“By sensitising the younger audience around the e-waste issues, we don’t only bring up a new generation of responsible consumers, but also make the message heard among their families, teachers and local communities.”
Last month ESS wrote about the Great British Spring Clean and the importance of instilling environmental responsibility in young people. Since today’s students will be tomorrow’s producers and consumers, it is essential that education is used to encourage a mentality of reduce, reuse, recycle – particularly concerning complex and valuable materials like e-waste.
Despite being the world leader in responsible e-waste recycling, 57.5% of Europe’s e-waste is not reported as collected and recycled.
In the UK alone, we still generate 23.9kg of e-waste per person annually and that figure is set to increase.
What can we do?
The WEEE website offers a variety of different activities that you can take part in to help reduce e-waste in your local community. Ultimately, awareness is the greatest gift that schools can give as this will influence the behaviour of others – leading to a greater impact long-term.
The WEEE’s suggestions include:
- Conferences and events;
- School collection days;
- Information campaigns in stores and recycling centres;
- On-line guide for proper e-waste disposal;
- Circular Economy games for schools;
- Social media competitions.
If you or your students are looking for further information on the work WEEE is doing or want to deepen your knowledge on the subject, you can visit their e-library.
Alongside raising awareness about your and your students’ consumption of e-goods, you might also look at how your general waste disposal is handled. Landfilled waste doesn’t just hurt the environment, it is costly to budgets as well. Given the continuing pressure schools have endured by diminished funding, and now the additional costs of coronavirus, any means to save money cannot be ignored.
Our team provides expert services to schools looking to improve their waste disposal costs. We’ll start by auditing and validating current waste collection invoices. We will then identify areas of potential savings and negotiate for better prices with suppliers and contractors.
We will also keep track of changing landfill tax legislation and help schools to reduce their waste output in order to manage rising costs. To find out how they can benefit, administrators can contact our team.