Editor's comment: Reducing e-waste through design & manufacturing…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 November 2020


October 14th was International E-Waste Day, I was reminded in the run up to it. Electronic & electrical waste is fast becoming a global crisis, as more devices of every type incorporate sensing, intelligence & connectivity – all powered by electronics.

A version of this editorial was originally featured in the November 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

According to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, a record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21% in just five years. And it’s estimated that by 2030, this number will reach a staggering 74 Mt!

Meanwhile, only 17% of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled globally, despite 71% of the world’s population being covered by e-waste legislation. Even in Europe, which leads the world in e-waste recycling, only around 40% is thought to be recycled. This means that, around the world in 2019, 44.3 million Mt of e-waste, valued at US $57 billion, was either placed in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way. This results in a huge loss of valuable and critical raw materials from the supply chain and causes serious health, environmental and societal issues, through illegal shipments of waste to developing countries.

International E-Waste Day (IEWD) was developed in 2018 by the WEEE Forum, an international association of WEEE (waste electrical & electronic equipment) collection schemes, to raise awareness around e-waste recycling and encourage consumers to recycle their electronics. For IEWD 2020, particular focus will be given to educating children and young people about ways to tackle the growing e-waste problem. The aim is to raise a new generation of responsible consumers and also help amplify the message among their families, teachers and local communities.

Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum says: “E-waste is an incredibly challenging waste stream: with the number of electrical and electronic devices increasing all the time, the number of materials in products going up and products becoming smaller, yet people holding on to their gadgets for a very long time, the challenge is only getting bigger and bigger.

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

But as we increasingly move away from the ‘throwaway’ society, towards a new culture where waste reduction and the ‘circular economy’ is centre stage, environmentally aware consumers are looking for products with longer lifespans that can be repaired when needed, rather than simply replaced. This is driving change in the way electronic devices are both manufactured and designed, with the EU recently proposing to extend its ‘right to repair’ eco-design bill (which currently applies to household appliances) to phones and tablets in a bid to increase the repairability of electrical and electronic devices.

Devices that are mechanically sealed or glued shut, such as smartphones, cannot currently be easily repaired by consumers. The sealed parts and/or products are designed to keep dust out and prevent liquid damage, but once compromised are often irreparable. If a product is dropped, the mechanical seals are often rendered obsolete, and even if it is possible to repair the device, it’s unlikely to be cost effective and the device will likely end up as e-waste.

Simon Vogt, Chief Commercial Officer at P2i explains how the liquid repellent solutions provider is working with some of the largest electronic device manufacturers worldwide on protecting electronic components: “Nano coatings are an alternative method that can continue delivering water protection, and will last the whole product lifetime. Typically, nano coatings are not compromised by other types of damage and that means that even if a product does need to be reworked or repaired, the nano coating will remain effective after the repairs have been completed. The ability to repair components and whole devices, rather than having to throw them away, reduces the need for landfill and enables manufacturers to meet regulations around waste. This brings significant benefits to both manufacturers and consumers in their efforts to reduce e-waste.

EPDT November’s issue also contains features on Test & Measurement technologies and Industrial applications. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

Mark Gradwell

EPDT Editor

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