27 Oct 2022

‘Old’ tech has no end-of-life (Guest blog by n2s)

Guest blog by Mimi Moll, IT & Telecoms Sustainability Lead at n2s.

International ewaste awareness day is on 14 October. But as ewaste is one of the fastest-growing environmental issues facing the world, the reality is that every single day, ewaste has an impact. According to the International WEEE forum 505 million laptops or tablets will be discarded this year - the equivalent 609,000 tonnes which is seven times the weight of the Taj Mahal. 

n2s mission is to support an infinite loop for the tech industry. This blog outlines the importance of handling and managing ewaste in the right way. 

Protecting materials, data and health 

Huge amounts of the IT equipment that businesses throw away is still perfectly usable, and could have a new life with someone else. Unfortunately, much of it ends up in landfill, or is shipped abroad to be incinerated. When this happens, not only can it never be reused, but valuable components and materials - including precious and rare earth metals - are lost forever. The WHO estimates that almost 13 million women and more than 18 million children and adolescents are working in the informal e-waste sector, which potentially exposes them to harmful ewaste chemicals. 

In some devices up to 60 elements can be found and that includes materials needed to develop technologies crucial to modern tech and the digital revolution. It is estimated that as much as 7% of all the world’s gold is trapped in mountains of ewaste.

Not only are precious metals trapped in ewaste but personable and confidential data is too. Under GDPR law, businesses that fail to protect confidential data can be fined up to 4% of their annual global revenues. So the estimated 5000 tonnes of business electricals being fly tipped (according to Material Focus report Business Electrical Waste - Challenges And Opportunities, July 2022) is dangerous to the habitat but could be detrimental to our data security. 

Time for a tech amnesty 

A tech amnesty is becoming a popular way of making time within a business to dispose of unwanted old tech in the most sustainable and secure way possible. An amnesty requires expertise to make sure the technology is moved correctly, in line with data security and so that the tech goes on to live forever and does not end up in landfill or illegally disposed of. 

Is this what is now needed on the environment agenda internationally - a statutory tech amnesty?  


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