E-waste has increased as the lifespan of our electronic devices has fallen. People are throwing away their goods at a much faster rate as tech companies make repair and reuse either impossible or too expensive.
In a recent scandal, Apple even admitted to deliberately slowing down some iPhone models through a software update coinciding with the release of a new model.
By reducing the lifespan of a product companies may drive sales, but this comes at the expense of citizens and the planet, said the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
The EEB launched a short film today to highlight the problem and urge EU governments to pass proposed laws that would oblige manufacturers to make products more durable and more easily repairable.
The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with around 140 members in over 30 countries.
Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, a product policy and circular economy officer with the EEB, said:
“E-waste is the next big environmental challenge in today’s digital society – a time bomb waiting to explode.
As recyclers struggle to deal with the growing amount of waste, our smartphones and white goods are buried in landfills or illegally exported to developing countries where they are often treated in informal or dangerous conditions.
Toxic chemicals contained in these products can easily leak in the environment and have even been found recycled products such as children’s toys.
Manufacturers must embrace eco-design so that the generation of e-waste is minimised in the first place and their products can be easily repaired.”
E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream, accounting for 70% of the toxic waste in US landfills. The United Nations has denounced its improper and unsafe treatment and disposal.
Only 20% of global e-waste is recycled. Much of the waste produced in Europe continues to be exported illegally to Africa and Asia, where it is recycled in informal and dangerous conditions.
77% of EU consumers would rather repair their goods than buy new ones (Eurobarometer 2014).
Computers, screens, smartphones, tablets and TVs account for half of the global e-waste. The remainder is larger household appliances, heating and cooling equipment or other commercial e-waste.
What are governments and the EU doing?
The European Commission has proposed rules for manufacturers to make our gadgets and home appliances more durable and easily repairable. The European Parliament has also urged governments to take those provisions on board as soon as possible.
The proposed laws would require that products can be disassembled and reassembled again with designs that allow an easy access to the parts that could break. They would also require manufacturers to make replacement parts, instructions and tools available, while special provisions would improve durability and recycling. For now they mostly concern dishwashers, washing machines, fridges, lights, TVs, displays and servers.