Every year we get thrilled and excited due to the development of new technologies and devices. Those novelties are unveiled in long-awaited annual global events, such as CES and Mobile World Congress, or in individual announcements from OEMs, such as Apple, Google or Microsoft. But what happens to that old PC or smartphone we get rid of after buying a new one?
According to detailed research released by the United Nations University, through its Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme, just across the 12 countries and areas analyzed in East and Southeast Asia, the average increase in e-waste was of 63% from 2010 to 2015 and totaled 12.3 million tonnes. China alone was responsible for 6.7 million tonnes in 2015, more than doubling its generation of e-waste since 2010, as can be seen on the graph below.
According to the study, the increase in e-waste was driven by rising incomes and high demand for new gadgets and appliances. Also, it has listed the four main trends for the increased volumes in the region:
- More gadgets: Innovation in technology is driving the introduction of new products, particularly in the portable electronics category, such as tablets and wearables like smart watches, etc.;
- More consumers: In the East & Southeast Asian region, there are industrializing countries with growing populations, but also rapidly expanding middle classes that are able to afford more gadgets;
- Decreasing usage time: The usage time of gadgets has decreased; this is not only due to rapidly advancing technology that make older products obsolete due to hardware incompatibility (e.g., flash drives replacing floppy disks) and software requirements (e.g., minimum requirements for PCs to run operating software and various other applications) but also soft factors such as product fashion. As more devices are replaced more rapidly, e-waste arising grows; and
- Imports: Import of EEE provides greater availability of products, both new and secondhand, which also increases e-waste arising as they reach their EoL.
Citing other studies made in the region, the United Nations University also highlights the illegal dumping of non-functional parts and residues into the environment, what it calls "open dumping". According to those studies, illegal dumping of e-waste is mainly due to:
- Lack of awareness: End users do not know that they should dispose of their obsolete EEE separately or how or where to dispose of their e-waste. Additionally, informal e-waste recyclers often lack the knowledge about the hazards of unsound practices;
- Lack of incentives: Users choose to ignore collection and/or recycling systems if they need to pay for them;
- Lack of convenience: Even if disposal through existing systems does not incur a fee, users may choose not to dispose of their e-waste in the proper channels if it is inconvenient or requires their time and effort;
- Absence of suitable sites: There may be a lack of proper locations for hazardous waste disposal where residues from e-waste recycling can be sent; and
- Weak governance and lax enforcement: A country with inadequate management or enforcement of e-waste legislation may result in rampant non-compliance.
Finally, the report gave a glimpse into some worldwide trends. For example, the total amount of electrical and electronic equipment put on the worldwide market increased from 51.33 million tonnes in 2007 to 56.56 million tonnes in 2012. Also, Asia alone was responsible for buying almost half of those devices.