The Zero Waste Berlin Festival was an online event held this September offering talks, workshops and exhibitions hosted by professionals working on sustainable, environmental and circular projects. One particular discussion was led by Kevin Negoro Kasih, founder of BlackForest Solutions, a licensed importer of hazardous waste into the EU. During the event, Negoro discussed the hidden impacts of E-waste—electronic waste—upon our environment and communities informing how important it is that we learn to responsibly recycle the masses of devices we, as a society, have collected.
E-waste can come in the form of microwaves, washing machines, radios, phones, vapes, iPads, circuit boards, lamps… the list is endless due to our technology-driven culture. The main culprit in enhancing the complexity of these products recycling process is the lithium battery. Lithium batteries are present in most personal electronic devices because they have the ability to be re-charged. This feature makes lithium extremely attractive and efficient but when that super speedy, shiny device comes to the end of its life—it’s lithium that comes back to haunt us.
When products containing lithium batteries are simply thrown away with the rest of our rubbish, they can cause immense fires through setting alight bins and landfill sites due to damaged batteries overheating and short circuiting—causing explosions. This is inflicts great consequences upon their health of the individuals handling the rubbish. E-waste needs to be professionally deconstructed and disposed of to prevent these fires happening.
Agbogbloshie is one of the largest electronic waste scrapyards in the world and is situated in Ghana’s capital, Accra. When E-waste is not delivered to an appropriate authority to be recycled, it is sometimes illegally exported to Ghana where the broken and completely useless devices are taken to Agbogbloshie. Locals scavenge on this site for products they can dismantle and extract valuable metals to sell on—such as iron, brass and copper. The most efficient method of extracting? Burning. As we know by now, the process of burning releases chemicals and toxins that jeopardises the health of the locals and the food chains through air contamination.
Through not recycling old electronics, the opportunity for reuse and refurbishment is taken away. One consequence of this being the continuation of lithium extraction to create new batteries for new devices. Lithium is a finite resource. With the increasing demand for electronics, the supply may not be able to meet the demand without recycling what we already have in circulation. As lithium is found in the brine of salt flats in arid countries such as Chile and Bolivia in South America, the air of the communities around these areas are polluted with the toxic chemicals needed to process it, besides damaging precious eco-systems.
It is one thing to understand the issues happening around us and another to be part of actively making a difference. Below are three ways of getting rid of the devices you don’t want anymore without actually throwing them in the bin.
Go to an E-waste recycler and ensure they have been certified by the Basel Action Network, with the Electronics Stewardship Certification, or that they claim they adhere to the Basel Convention regulations. This will guarantee your electronic waste isn’t being illegally abandoned in undeveloped countries; that workers handling your waste are being treated ethically, and that recycling is carried out with environmental and social responsibility.
Firstly, you can always get a professional repair done on an electronic device, or to save money—try learning to do it yourself! Alternatively, you might be ready to part with your device but to other people it may just be the perfect fit for them. One of the most effective ways to get rid of electronic devices is to give them a new home and purpose by passing them on or selling them. For an easy process, try selling on Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, or Craigslist.
Apple’s Trade In scheme provide the customer with credit toward their next purchase if the old device is eligible and traded in-store. They will also recycle products for free if they have come to the end of their lifetime. Samsung offer a trade in system too ‘Give us yours. Get one’ where the value of the old device being traded in is deducted of the price of the new model purchased. If parts can be reused, this will make a significant difference on the resources being used and reduce the unethical impacts of mass manufacturing new electronic devices.
The E-waste recycling industry is still in need of development as the demand for investing in a more efficient system, ironically, directly relies on the increasing demand for lithium batteries. As products such as electric cars begin becoming the norm and battery storage for sustainable energy is required, we will be forced to consider how to keep our limited resources, for example lithium, in circulation to meet electronic demand. Until then, we must each make decisions and changes to ensure we are acting responsibly when choosing, using our devices—and then discarding of our e-waste.
+ Words: Cerys Matthews. Editor, Luxiders Magazine.