Why Should You Recycle Small Appliances?
With an estimated solid waste generation of 2.01 billion tonnes annually, the solid waste footprint per person across the world is about 0.74kg per day and, according to the World Bank, this is expected to increase by 70% to 3.40 billion tonnes in 2050.
From that gigantic expanse, electronic waste accounts for 17.4% and is defined by the United Nations as “any discarded products with a battery or plug, that features toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, that can pose severe risk to human and environmental health.”
This means that the five-year-old iron which you tossed into the bin gleefully, as you purchased a new one, is electronic waste. So we need to be more deliberate about recycling.
Why Does This Matter?
As opposed to better waste management practices in developed countries, over 90% of electronic waste (e-waste), which is non-biodegradable, is often disposed of in dumpsites or openly burned within low-income and developing countries. Such burning releases toxic contaminants into the environment and exposes people within the geographical location to high levels of contaminants such as lead, mercury, beryllium, thallium, and cadmium, which have irreversible health effects including cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage, and diminished IQs. In particular, lead causes damage to human blood, kidneys, as well as the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Furthermore, when appliances that contain heavy metals are disposed of into the ground, they can leach through the soil to connect with underground water channels and lead to the death of plants within the environment, which in turn reduces access to oxygen for human respiration. Some of the water eventually reaches the surface and can poison humans who consume it.
Additionally, a 2019 joint report, which supports previous research by the E-Waste Coalition, states that if individuals continue to handle e-waste improperly, “there will be a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials, including precious metals as neodymium (vital for magnets in motors), indium (used in flat-panel TVs) and cobalt (for batteries)”. This means that at some point in the future, you may be unable to purchase a new flat-screen TV!
What Can You Do About This?
The health effects of inadequate electronic waste disposal are alarming. Yet, this does not mean that we should stick to the same appliances forever, as that would be a tall order. Instead, here are some interesting points to note, which would enable a more sustainable approach to using appliances.
Based on research, “recycled metals are 2 to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore. Furthermore, mining discarded electronics produces 80% fewer emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of gold compared with mining it from the ground.” This is of particular importance because of recent conversations regarding climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero through energy efficiency and cleaner sources. Thus, developing countries can yield to updated agreements from the COP26 by recycling their appliances rather than disposing of them as this drastically reduces emission levels.
Across the world, recycling rates are low, with an average of 20%. Thus, emphasis needs to be placed on the benefits of recycling. In particular, civic programs can be designed by private and public organizations within local communities to sensitize inhabitants and provide collective drop-off points for electronic waste which would then be transferred to recycling centers.
Finally, the informal economy can be maximally utilized. Rather than ignoring local waste pickers who may select e-waste from landfills and burn them unhealthily, structures and policies can be put in place by the legislature to recognize their role and channel their efforts towards sustainable actions of recycling, repair, and reuse.
Author: Gbemibori Olaoye