With electronic waste (e-waste) on the rise, many countries all over the globe are faced with a dilemma. How can we thrive in a technology-driven world while preventing e-waste from threatening human health and the environment?
Student leaders in several countries in Asia have founded TAE branches and led the forefront in mitigating this global problem. Two leaders from Singapore and Japan sent us the following two YouTube videos that describe the inspiring e-waste recycling situations in their communities.
One of TAE’s branch leaders, HongYi Lu, a student at Raffles Institution in Singapore, describes in this video below that “anything regarding e-waste, you can recycle.” What makes Singapore’s E-Waste recycling program so effective is the incentivization of it: citizens will earn rewards just by dropping off dud batteries and electronics they no longer need. This effort is backed by Singapore’s National Environmental Agency and helps cut down on local e-waste all throughout Singapore.
Another TAE's branch leader, Tianchen Zhang, a student at the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) in Singapore, published the following video detailing Singapore’s methods for reducing e-waste and advocating for responsible e-waste management.
Tianchen remarked that the “[Singapore] National Environment Agency (NEA) is the leading public organization…ensuring a clean and sustainable environment for Singapore,” and that “the government has done a really good job.” The NEA runs the Extended Producer Responsibility Framework (EPR), which pushes electronics companies to take responsibility for their products and prevents future e-waste production. One of the ways the NEA has efficiently ensured the program’s success is by placing e-waste collection bins in high-traffic community centers as well as by incentivizing participation in the program with rewards. This has helped encourage public awareness and support, allowing for a strong and effective program.
Siqi Hu is another pioneering branch leader. Located in Osaka, Japan, at Temma Junior High School, Hu collaborated with Alen Zhang, the Assistant Director of the TAE Operations Committee, to film an enlightening video on Japan’s recycling programs.
As described in the video, in every residential area the residents are required to separate the waste into categories such as cardboard boxes, glass bottles, plastic bottles (labels must be taken off), other plastics, batteries, and miscellaneous trash. Similar to TAE’s own battery recycling methods, batteries have their own specific collection box and are retrieved to be recycled regularly!
Written by Jacqueline Zhou, California, USA
In 2018, Canada’s households reported almost 11 million tons of incinerated and trashed waste – which averages 725kg per household. Despite this extravagant number, only 1% of this amount was diverted from landfills that year. When looking at electronic waste specifically, the numbers aren’t much better: only 38% of dead electronics avoid the landfill in Ontario. Given that Ontario is one of the few provinces across Canada that has implemented recycling regulations, why isn’t this number lower?
The answer to this question lies in Canada’s current treatment towards e-waste.
A Statistics Canada survey compares different recycling methods taken by households that had e-waste to dispose of in 2017 and 2019. Of those 6 results, sending the waste to a depot center is still the most frequented option of disposal in both years, averaging a 4.5% increase across electronics, with the most disposed products being monitors, printers, and AV equipment at 65% in 2019. It’s great news that households are becoming more aware of proper disposal methods, but there is still a long way to go before this number can truly be called efficient. While recycling is one of the primary ways to diminish the environmental damage that e-waste brings, looking at ways to reduce waste is more effective, as it tackles the problem at its base rather than dealing with its side effects.
The second most popular option for these households was to continue holding onto them – this averaged 21% of the households in 2019. This is quite a large percentage of electronic waste, which the Ontario government recognizes as something to improve upon. Effective January of 2021, the government introduced a regulation in 2020 that holds producers financially responsible for their products’ waste. The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) is tasked with monitoring producers to ensure their continuous cooperation, which will force producers to take a greater part in reducing costs and educating consumers.
A prime example of this encouraged corporate responsibility is Nokia. The company plans to collaborate with small business Greener Acres Inc. to use recycled electronic waste to produce and distribute smart poles of high speed internet across the province – starting from 2019, this is predicted to nearly halve energy usage across Nokia products. There’s been no update on this project since then, but we remain hopeful that this plan comes to fruition.
This innovation is highly encouraged by Ontario’s new policy, which not only incentivizes consumers to send their old electronics towards a useful cause but also begins reducing the amount of e-waste in the market. This is just the first step of many in the right direction of e-waste management and hopefully, into a future of zero waste in Canada.
Written by Grace Gan, Ontario, Canada
Over the period of 2020 to 2021, there has been a rapid increase in the number of people who watch/purchase TVs, especially due to the massive global pandemic and most people having to isolate themselves at home. Though TVs have brought us a lot of entertainment this past year, electronics companies have been hiding a big secret that may be more dangerous than you think.
For decades, television producers have been putting toxic organohalogen flame retardant chemicals (OFRs) into their products, encased in plastic casings. These televisions are sold at major U.S. retailers like Best Buy and Amazon. Because of this, a lot of our TVs are part of a large; and growing, source of toxic pollutants in our homes, environment, and workplaces. To add more salt to the wound, they pose serious health threats.
When you dispose/recycle televisions that contain OFRs, they can potentially release dioxins which are among the most toxic chemicals known to science. Workers and people who live in the vicinity can breathe in these harmful chemicals and face medical problems. Household fires can also release these chemicals, which has led to firefighters supporting the efforts to ban flame retardants.
Though the situation may seem unchangeable, there is still hope. Best Buy; a major electronics company, has launched a chemicals policy with the goal to reduce the use of chemicals. They are heading in the right direction, even if there are still a lot of things to improve on in their policies. Let's just hope that more companies hop on the bandwagon!
Written by Amelia Halverson, Ontario, Canada
Imagine breaking one piece of an electronic device, for example a battery, and having to buy a completely new one just because you just couldn't replace one item. This happens with anything from phones to cars, and we sadly can't do much about it. Not only is it an inconvenience for the consumer, it also increases e-waste by getting rid of perfectly good electronics. Since products are getting progressively harder to repair, Right to Repair movements have been pushing for repair tools.
Now, what is the "Right to Repair"? In a couple words, it is the general right for a customer to be able to repair their own electronics/products that they have purchased and rightfully owned. Though this applies to all products, and you can technically fix them, companies try their best to make it as hard as possible to fix their products. Therefore they make you buy a brand new version of the products that broke.
One of the companies that did this was Apple, an incredibly successful electronics company. They have very rare materials/parts that are very specific to, for example, iPhones, so that it would be very hard for customers to fix their iPhone alone.Though this is horrible, especially for the e-waste crisis, it appears that Apple may be changing their ways. Just a couple weeks ago Apple released a “Self Service Repair program” that will help customers perform their own repairs from the comfort of their own homes. Next year, they will start selling pieces and repair tools for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 in the United States, and then expand to more countries over 2022. This will enable customers to fix their products without having to waste a (almost) completely functional item. Since Apple is such a huge company, this could be a big help with e-waste because there would be a lot less wasting of good electronics.
Though Apple still recommends visiting a professional Apple repair shop (which is super expensive), this new Self Service Repair program might just help with the prevention of e-waste, and give customers a bit less reliant on the brand.
Written by Amelia Halverson, Ontario, Canada