E-Waste and how Coronavirus will help reduce it

We live in an age of mass consumerism. The growth of technology and associated hardware products isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Every year, there is a race to buy the latest products off the shelves of online and office marketplaces because no one wants to get “left behind.” But what happens to all that junk we throw out at the end of their supposed “lifecycle.” It becomes “someone else’s problem.”

A large portion of the audience never thinks about what happens when they dump electronic waste into the garbage. Perhaps, some think of themselves as “green people” and “responsibly” dump their waste into nearby e-waste “recyclers.” However, what these people don’t know (and it’s honestly not their fault) is that a lot of the e-waste recyclers end up disposing of it. This system is no better than if you would dump your electronics directly into the trash and not waste taxpayers’ money(e-waste recyclers often receive grants.)

This scenario is aptly presented in a Verge article by Colin Lecher in which he investigated the movement of recycled e-waste products.

Electronics can be hazardous when disposed of improperly, and the Basel Action Network, or BAN, investigates the underground world of the e-waste trade. The nonprofit group secretly embeds trackers in discarded devices, then hands them to recyclers to see where they end up, exposing bad practices in the process. After dropping bugged LCD monitors in Oregon, they followed along as the trackers traced a circuitous route through the summer of 2015 and into the fall.

Puckett, whose hip glasses and easy manner belie a combative spirit, watched with his team as the trackers’ coordinates inched across a map and returned a signal. He was stunned by what they reported. They passed through Portland, bounced around Seattle, and sailed across the Pacific Ocean. After months, they landed in Hong Kong.

Colin Lecher, The Verge

Now, what does the recent Coronavirus pandemic have to do with e-waste, you might ask. I say it plays a significant role, and here’s how.

The Downfall of Tech Manufacturing

An image from the Galaxy Note 10 production line – GSMArena.com

COVID-19 has caused a halt in production. Several manufacturing hubs such as China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and South Korea still have their factories shut. Companies such as Foxconn, Samsung, and many others have their factories under lockdown. Computer imports from China dropped 64 percent in the first two weeks of March. Computer shipments from China to the US dropped 64 percent in the first two weeks of March, according to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Monitor and TV imports dropped 66 percent, against a broader 45 percent drop in total Chinese imports. Some analysts are already worried that the next round of iPhones could be delayed (although Apple insists the disruptions will be temporary). The 2020 iPad seems to be unaffected because it’s production appears to have been completed two months earlier. The ongoing financial collapse is also going to mean less money to spend on computers, which could be an even bigger problem for companies.

All of this means that manufacturing is going to be hit, hit HARD. Companies are going to have to delay their product launch cycles, and for the subset of companies that released products at the end of February and March, customers will have a hard time getting their hands on these products. The Samsung S20 series is reported to have been facing hiccups in the manufacturing process.

The Effect on E-Waste

The Verge

The effect of this on e-waste is going to be tangible. The manufacturing of fewer products leads to an overall decline in E-Waste. Thus, coronavirus has done for us what we should have done ourselves in the first place. All this means that we finally have a chance to reflect on our actions and take steps to address the downfalls.

To clarify, “e-waste” is a misnomer. Nothing in electronics is genuinely waste. If we first increase the time we own products and then recycle the products responsibly, we can stop handing the reins of control to temporary obstacles like coronavirus did for us. Ultimately, if we leave this situation uncontrolled, it’s going to come right back to us.

Humans want to be in control. Why do we not want to be in control when it comes to e-waste?

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