E-waste is a big problem for our modern-day society. Some might call it one of the biggest.
Others, of course, may argue this. Electronics, they may say, are only a small part of the world’s waste.
On the other hand, the bulk amount isn’t the only point of concern. While it’s true that e-waste only makes up about two percent of the waste produced by the world, it comprises up to 70 percent of the world’s toxic waste overall.
Whether you see e-waste as a major concern or not, there’s no arguing the fact that it is significantly impacting our environment, including pollution of soil and groundwater and ill effects on sea life, animal life, and humans alike.
It’s also unlikely to be argued that tech companies have a hand in this. After all, electronic waste consists of just that: electronics. And technology companies are focused on producing the newest, fastest, finest electronic products to a world that has gone tech-hungry.
Simply because tech companies produce technology, however, doesn’t mean that they are irresponsible.
Let’s take a look at five ways that tech companies can significantly contribute to the reduction of e-waste by incorporating responsible actions in their business plan.
DESIGN FOR THE LONG TERM
The first key point – and this is a big one – is to design for the long term. This may be difficult for tech companies; the majority make their money by meeting a constant demand, which mounts up year by year. When the demand slows, the financial flow slows. The demand is kept high and steady by the creation of products that are constantly in need of updating or upgrading – or being replaced entirely.
Mobile service providers and like companies contribute to this by incorporating what amounts to leasing programs within their services. A Verizon customer, for example, pays a small amount on a new phone for two years or so and then has the choice of keeping the phone or upgrading to a new one and trading in the model they’ve been paying for. Some tech consumers purchase a new model phone and laptop every single year, depending on how much they use it and what the usage entails.
Of course, in the highly competitive world of technology, it’s difficult to ignore this business model in favor of designing tech that lasts longer than the norm.
There are limitations on how far this suggestion can go, of course. Technology continues to advance at lightning-fast speeds, with new innovations hitting the market every year. And tech companies need to keep up with the times.
Even within those limits, however, designing for as long of a product life as possible is a very responsible way to approach the problem of e-waste, one that gets right at the heart of the issue.
REPAIR AND UPCYCLE EXISTING PRODUCTS
While we’re talking about repairing and upcycling, what about pursuing this goal specifically?
Some tech companies do this in-house, providing refurbished products to their customers at a lower rate. Others may work with businesses like computer and laptop recycling companies that may either purchase older or outdated models, work with used models, or accept donations (and that’s our next point!). They then refurbish, update, and retrofit the individual units to make them acceptable for resale.
All of this extends the life of the individual products and significantly cuts down on yearly e-waste levels from tech companies.
MINIMIZE USE OF NEW RESOURCES
Apart from recycling and repairing, there are other things that tech companies can do to responsibly manage e-waste. And one of them hits home: budget constraints.
Every company has a budget. And every company constantly looks for ways to stay under budget, even tech companies.
After all, it requires tech in order to create tech!
Within the individual companies, policies can be created that allow for the minimization of new resource purchases. In other words, while developers and manufacturers do need certain resources, how far can they push the resources they already have? Can tools, applications, machinery, and software be stretched further before they are beyond all use?
This is a good way not only to reduce e-waste but also to reduce the budget and overhead of the tech companies themselves. Win-win.
PARTNER WITH RECYCLING COMPANIES
How much does it cost to recycle e-waste in a responsible manner? The answer depends on a variety of factors:
- The location
- The products and materials being recycled
- Availability of local companies
- Availability of local recycling resources
- How reputable the service is
- How thoroughly the product and materials are broken down
- Other factors that may vary depending on the previous
One way to circumvent at least some of these factors and keep the recycling budget to a minimal and effective level is to partner with e-waste recycling companies. Some of these are designed to take existing products and actually upcycle and refurbish them (more on that next). Others can break down the products into their recyclable valuable materials and send those materials on to manufacturers, thus extending the lifetime of those resources.
Partnering and signing a yearly contract with recycling companies provides a valuable service to tech companies on an ongoing, foreseeable basis. For businesses that are based on keeping on the cutting edge, this is an invaluable piece of certainty.
DONATE PRODUCTS AND ITEMS
A final way that tech companies can chip away at their e-waste production is to donate products, either locally or to a larger-scale operation.
This is especially applicable for products that have been sent back from the original buyers, products within warranty that need refurbishment or upgrades, and older, unsold products.
Donation to charity organizations and the like is an excellent way to reduce the e-waste footprint of a tech company, as well as enhance the public persona.
THE E-WASTE TAKEAWAY
Ultimately, the main point that should be derived is that e-waste is a significant problem – but there are also significant things that tech companies can do to contribute to the solution.
No single company will be able to completely reverse the tide. But the more companies that try to incorporate these tips, the closer we will come to a long-term solution to electronic waste.