Recycling is not enough – we need more reuse of e-waste (Feb12)

E For Good is campaigning to Clear Out and Clean up electrical and electronic waste –
website will be launched by March 2012.. 
Refurbished washing machines waiting to be reused – at Environcom site
Melinda Watson and Julia Hailes – co-founders of E For Good 
First I should explain that e-waste is waste electrical and electronic products – basically, anything with a plug or a battery.   I’ve just co-founded an organisation – E For Good – that is campaigning to CLEAR OUT and CLEAN UP e-waste in the UK.  We’re promoting repair, reuse and recycling of e-waste, demonstrating good practice, changing people’s thinking about our throwaway culture and supporting charities and local communities.   
 
Many people think that recycling is the answer to the e-waste problem.  Actually, it’s nowhere near enough.   We need to be reusing whole products, such as fridges, washing machines, computers and TVs that are frequently thrown away in reasonable working order or in need of minimal repair. 
 
If it’s not possible to reuse whole products, we should be pulling out individual components for spare parts.  This will be saving valuable raw materials, as well as the energy and water used in the manufacturing process.  
 
“Reusing functional PCs is 20 times more energy efficient than recycling them”.
 
In 2011 European legislation set a provisional target for reuse of e-waste at 5%, which they appeared to think was ambitious.  But Environcom, the e-waste company E For Good is working with have already achieved 15% reuse and they have a target to increase this to 30%.   They say that washing machines are one of the best products for refurbishing, but in 2011, across the UK as a whole, only 3% of these white goods were reused. 
 
Where do we go with e-waste
 
The biggest problem with e-waste is that most people don’t actually throw it away because they simply don’t know what to do with it.   They hoard it in drawers, cupboards and garages, often for years and years.   And the time we keep these things means that when we do eventually throw them away, no-one else is likely to want them – they’ll be completely out of date. 
 
Almost the only place, to take your e-waste, at the moment, is your local Household Waste Recycling Centre.  But this generally means that all your products are left in the rain and so any chance of reusing them is lost.   We’re looking at how to collect e-waste of all sizes in containers that keep the products dry, secure and hopefully undamaged.   The challenge is to find the sites to do this. 
 
Retailers are supposed to offer collection of e-waste through in-store take-back schemes.  The sad reality is that most of them have managed to avoid this legal responsibility by signing up to a government scheme that gets them off the hook.  
 
Recent revisions in the legislation seem to indicate that large retailers, selling electrical goods, will now have to take back any e-waste of the sort of products they sell.  So if you’re in a shop selling computers and IT equipment, you should be able to give them all your e-waste related to that.  Equally, if you’re shopping for kitchen electricals, the shop should take back things like old toasters, kettles or electric cookers.  
 
Keeping things together
 
We’re planning to do a survey to find out how much e-waste people have stored at home.  We haven’t yet come across anyone who doesn’t admit to having quite a sizeable amount.  Chargers for mobiles, MP3 players, digital cameras and other gizmos are just some of the most invidious offenders.  And all the wires that are needed to power our e-life, are also high on the list.
 
How many of us have lost track of which charger or which wire goes with what product?  One of the challenges of promoting reuse is encouraging people to keep all the related e-equipment together when they’re thrown out.  We need to tape remote controls to TVs and recorders and make sure that we include wires, accessories, CD software and even instruction booklets, wherever possible.
 
Changing culture
 
The challenge is to switch back from our consumer throwaway culture to a society that’s prepared to repair and reuse what we have.   But we’re not simply calling for a nostalgic visit to the past – we think that we need to create a new way of doing things.   This means designing waste-free products and systems, which make the most of the valuable materials they’re made from.  After all, many of the resources we’re currently using won’t be around for much longer – we’re running out.  
 
Given that shopping malls and high streets are increasingly struggling to compete with online sales, perhaps they should be offering something different.   We forecast that the most successful ones will be hiring, leasing, repairing, servicing, upgrading and selling reused equipment.  The ’pile them high, sell them cheap and make them fall apart’ type stores should end up on the rubbish heap where they belong!

4 thoughts on “Recycling is not enough – we need more reuse of e-waste (Feb12)

  1. shredding Houston says:

    I do agree that people should be educated about recycling and re-purposing items not just paper documents and plastic items but with electronic devices like that of computer hard drives and cell phones to reduce wastage.

  2. Kwabena Osei says:

    I am in Ghana,Africa
    Most mobile phones that's have here do no not come with wall chargers and so most people want used and functional mobile phone wall chargers for reuse.
    I will be very happy if you have more of these used chargers as it is needed in Africa for reuse.

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