A couple weeks ago Greenpeace released our 16th version of the Guide to Greener Electronics, and we've seen a lot of progress in creating greener electronics products since we first released the Guide in 2006. Today is America Recycles Day and I keep hearing about e-waste recycling days in town. And though these events have value, they leave me feeling skeptical. Taking responsibility for the end of life of its products is exactly where the industry is making the least amount of progress.
Greenpeace’s Green Electronics campaign has only two asks: eliminate toxic chemicals and take responsibility for your products lifecycle. When it comes to taking responsibility for their own products we mean two things. Companies must support Individual Producer Responsibility policies, which create financial incentives for the industry to design products that have a longer life; and support bans of the exporting of e-waste to developing nations that have no infrastructure to safely dispose of it.
The UN estimates that upwards of 40 million tons of e-waste are produced globally each year. What this says to me is our products don’t last nearly long enough. Our products should last longer than 18 months for mobile phones and 2 to 3 years for laptops. By making products that last longer and are upgradeable, the electronics industry could do its part to reduce the amount of e-waste generated each year.
US E-waste law
The US does not have a federal e-waste law. That means that the e-waste you drop off at a local electronic recycler could be shipped to places like China and Ghana, where workers at scrapyards break it down with little to no protection, often inhaling the fumes of burning toxic chemicals and contaminating the water and land nearby. This is why just dropping your old laptop at a recycling center for America Recycles Day isn’t enough, you need to make sure that your old product will be refurbished and reused within the US.
But in places that have bans, like the EU, there are hidden flows of e-waste. Over the course of the Green Electronics campaign, Greenpeace has shown that many products are exported to developing nations under the guise of being sold as used products, only to be sold to scrapyards instead. These loopholes must be closed.
And for the US, where our lawmakers are talking about e-waste laws, these loopholes must not be included in the first place.
The electronics industry still has a long way to go, and we must hold them accountable for the waste they create and the solutions involve more than just recycling.