How can find our way out of the growing e-waste problem?

It might seem a simplistic idea – but repair initiatives such as this one could be part of a solution to the growing amount of electrical and electronic waste.

This waste is becoming a huge problem. The 50 million tonnes of e-waste generated every year will more than double to 110 million tonnes by 2050, making it the fastest growing waste stream in the world, according to the author of a UN report.

Environmental damage

The staggering volume of e-waste was one of the main reasons you may want to get involved in fixing broken gadgets.

Restart Project in London – part of a wider repair movement of community-based projects around the world “This project allows you to reduce waste, extend the life of objects, and it helps people who cannot afford to get rid of items that have developed a fault”. The issue of electronic waste is overlooked, as electronic items that could be fixed easily go to waste instead, contributing to pollution and increasing the demand for components like rare earth elements, which can have a damaging impact on the environment when sourced.”

E-waste graphic

The UN’s next Global E-Waste Monitor is due to be published in April, but with only 41 countries producing official e-waste statistics, the fate of the majority of the waste is “simply unknown”, according to Prof Ian Williams of the University of Southampton.

“In countries where there is no national e-waste legislation in place, e-waste is likely treated as other or general waste. This is either land-filled or recycled, along with other metal or plastic wastes,” he says.

But e-waste from discarded electrical and electronic products is only part of the problem. A significant contributor to e-waste is the release of toxins from mining and manufacturing.

The rare earth elements being mined are currently crucial components in high-tech electronics, but they are hazardous to extract.

“There is the high risk that the pollutants are not taken care of properly, or they are taken care of by an informal sector and recycled without properly protecting the workers, while emitting the toxins contained in e-waste,

But the truth is that one in five people – at best – are going to be motivated to do that, so for the remaining four out of five, we need to put systems in place that are convenient, that match their lifestyles and enable us to get the electronic equipment back… into the next item