As individuals and within businesses and industry, we create an exorbitant amount of electronic and electrical waste. Very rarely, however, do we stop to think about what happens to these items when we dispose of them. Use the Smarter Business quick guide to find out what items are included in the term e-waste, how to reduce business waste when it comes to electronics and electrical appliances, and why you need to consider waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
What are some examples of e-waste?
All electrical and electronic items – run by a plug or battery – which have reached the end of their usable life. The current regulations divide these into 14 categories:
- Large appliances (e.g. fridges, dishwashers)
- Small appliances (e.g. microwaves, kettles)
- IT equipment (e.g. computers, phones)
- Consumer equipment (e.g. televisions)
- Electronic and electrical leisure and sport equipment
- Medical equipment
- Monitoring and control equipment
- Automatic dispensers
- Display equipment
- Appliances with refrigerants
- Gas discharge lamps and LEDs
- Solar panels
There are also some items excluded from regulation, including military items and large fixed industrial tools as a couple of examples.
Why is responsible WEEE waste disposal important?
We are high consumers of electronics
All modern businesses use electrical or electronic goods to run – from the one-man-band to big corporates and industry. In fact, millions of tonnes of e-waste is generated each year.
To protect the environment
Electrical and electronic components are some of the most dangerous items when they end up in landfill. Electronic materials can be highly toxic (mercury, lead, and cadmium are some examples), affecting drinking water and ecosystems if they are not disposed of responsibly.
To preserve precious raw materials
Give some thought to the metals and minerals mined to meet the world demand for electrical and electronic equipment. For instance, the average hard drive contains gold, silver, and palladium. The manufacturing process also produces greenhouse gases which can be reduced by proper e-waste management.
Handling this type of waste has health and safety implications
Electric and electronic waste normally comprises many different components, some of which expose handlers to hazardous substances. Responsible disposal of WEEE includes careful treatment and controlled exposure to such substances.
E-Waste quick facts
- According to the United Nations University’s Global E-waste Monitor, it is estimated that we will generate in the region of 50 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste in 2019.
- This figure is set to rise to 52.2 million tonnes in 2021.
- Around 3 million tonnes of this year’s predicted waste are mobile devices and other small equipment.
- Around 2 million tonnes of WEEE waste is generated in the UK each year.
- Only 20% of e-waste is collected and recycled.
- The truth is we don’t know the fate of most e-waste as it is undocumented. It is assumed it is dumped or traded. Only 41 countries have official e-waste statistics.
- In 2017, 34% of the world’s population was covered by e-waste legislation.
- The total value of raw materials in e-waste in 2016 was 55 billion Euros.
- Large appliances make up more than 40% of e-waste.
- The average American gets a new mobile phone every 18 months.
- Nearly 100% of e-waste is recyclable.
What does the law say about e-waste?
WEEE is regulated by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations, which governs how different types of e-waste are to be disposed. The regulations aim to reduce the amount of e-waste sent to landfill and incinerators. They further aim to encourage the recover, re-use, and recycling of e-waste and its components.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations apply to:
- Manufacturers, sellers, and re-sellers of EEE under their own brand
- Commercial importers of EEE into the UK
- Suppliers of EEE to the UK market through distance selling
The Regulations govern how this e-waste is disposed of and the different reporting obligations for different waste producers.
Proposed new regulations around persistent organic pollutants (POPs) stand to create new challenges for waste management companies. POPs are organic compounds which do not biodegrade, with a negative effect on the environment and human health. POPs are especially present in the plastics of a number of different appliances and equipment and it is proposed that these items should be destroyed or transformed as a new form of compliance. This may be costly, as it requires this waste to be exported for treatment in high-temperature incinerators and cement kilns outside the UK. It may also have other increased treatment costs.
How to dispose of e-waste
An increasing number of manufacturers are including return programmes as part of their services. This allows them to give new life to old components and ensure that the remaining parts are correctly disposed of. Find out if your suppliers have such a policy before throwing away WEEE.
This generally involves a process of decontamination, shredding, and separation. The end result is a range of recovered components, which will be given new life in different equipment. Some examples are cables, concrete, plastic, ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
Both locally and internationally, there are people who could benefit from your unwanted electronics. This is great for your waste management strategy – and a strong marketing point for your business too.
How to reduce waste in a business environment: e-waste
- Repair rather than throw away your electronics. This creates jobs and has a positive environmental effect.
- Pass on the advantages of technology. Creating a market for cheaper used electronics – particularly in disadvantaged communities and the developing world – gives people access to this equipment they previously may not have had. In the case of smartphones and computers, the benefits can have a marked effect.
- Be inventive when it comes to ways to re-use electronics. The bin should be the last resort.
- Re-visit your electronics policy. With electronics forming vital tools to our work, we often get the latest technologies with unnecessary regularity. Take care of your electronics. Find out how to extend their lifespan and use them until they need to be replaced. Don’t upgrade for the sake of it.
Some considerations around e-waste disposal
- Business computers store a lot of sensitive information, including client information and your unique business processes and systems. If your hard drives form part of your e-waste, give a thought to security of your data – even at this point. Ensure that the disposal of this equipment takes this point into consideration.
- Before you dispose of your electronic appliance, device, or equipment, ask yourself why you’re throwing it away. Is it because it’s broken? Explore the alternatives to disposal to avoid shortening the life cycle of the item.
Business Waste Management Strategy from Smarter Business
At Smarter Business, our waste management experts are on-hand to find the best e-waste solutions on your behalf. The team is geared to provide strategic tips and advice to form part of your holistic business waste management plan. Contact Smarter Business today to make your waste work for your business.