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E-waste crisis: call for more durable and more easily recycled products to beat rising problem

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Designing more durable products will be key in helping to reduce the volume of electronic, or 'e-waste', produced each year. This is according to a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

E-waste includes everything from mobile phones and computers to toasters and televisions, through to office equipment and domestic solar power systems.

Around 44.7 million tonnes of such rubbish was produced in 2018, making it the fastest-growing category of waste in the world.

Globally, people only deal with one-fifth of e-waste appropriately, with little data on what happens to the rest.

For the most part it ends up in landfill, or is disposed of by informal workers in poor conditions, according to the WEF.

While this form of waste only amounts to around 2pc of all solid waste, it's responsible for 70pc of all hazardous rubbish.

A driver of the waste is the rise in smartphones. In 2017, 1.46 billion smartphones were sold. And by the end of next year, there could be as many as 2.87 billion people around the world with a smartphone.

However, these numbers pale into insignificance when compared with the volume of electronic goods the Internet of Things (IoT) supports, which could see as many as 50 billion networked devices in use by next year.

"From smart home devices to commercial sensors, it is highly likely that everything connected to the IoT will one day become obsolete - adding yet more bulk to the e-waste pile," the report states.

There are considerable environmental and health benefits to reducing e-waste.

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In addition, such rubbish may contain metals such as gold, copper and nickel, as well as rare materials of strategic value such as indium and palladium.

In order to end the problem of e-waste, more than just an improvement in recycling facilities will be required.

While ensuring proper handling of e-waste is crucial, the WEF advises that stemming the tide of discarded electronic goods also has to become a priority.

This will mean designing products that are durable rather than disposable, and ensuring that when they reach the end of their usefulness they can be recycled both easily and safely.

There are a number of ways in which an efficient and safe disposal of goods could be achieved, for example, buyback schemes whereby retailers and manufacturers assume responsibility for proper disposal procedures could be an option in the future.

However, the WEF also suggests that the reduction of e-waste might also call for more radical changes, such as deviating from asset-ownership models to service-subscription ones, where devices are leased for fixed periods and then returned, recycled and replaced.


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