Electronic waste hasn’t always gained attention on the sustainability front.
But your e-waste could actually be another person’s treasure.
The problem of electronic waste
Electronic waste. We might not throw away our phones at the same rate we throw away plastic, but it’s still a very real problem in society. E-waste is often full of toxic chemicals that pollute our environment and oceans. In addition, our e-waste isn’t as useless as we might think. In fact, electronics don’t lose their value once they no longer work.
Other than the obvious – reusing parts, for example – many electronics, especially smartphones, contain metals such as gold and silver which never actually lose their value. While the amount of gold in smartphones isn’t massive, a bag of used phones contains one gram of gold. When you work out all the smartphones that are thrown out or discarded, that amounts to a lot of gold.
And that’s only one useful metal in smartphones.
The circular economy
The circular economy means that the materials in devices are returned, reused and repurposed. This eliminates, or largely decreases, the electronic waste in society.
It means that when you buy a new smartphone, the elements in the old one can be melted down or repurposed to be used in a new electronic device.
Some argue that a circular economy isn’t economically worth the effort.
2,700 tonnes of gold are produced every year from mining. That’s roughly 300 million smartphones.
So, the economy couldn’t function merely on reuse alone. However, it does pose potential both for mining companies, so that they can make money beyond production, and for consumers and the environment, so that less discarded smartphones end up as waste.
In 2016, 435 000 tonnes of mobile phones were thrown away. That indicates a loss of potential for companies and a significant negative impact on the environment.
Gold isn’t the only metal that comes out of e-waste. E-waste can also include silver, copper, platinum or palladium. Each of these have their own individual worth, and yet many of them end up merely discarded.
How can we ensure that the circular economy is successful?
There are technologies that can be used to ensure the endurance of a circular economy.
Blockchain, for one, can track the lifecycle of metals. Our platform, STAMP, has the ability to track supply chains beginning-to-end. It can provide traceability for the lifecycle of a product.
Other technologies that could be useful include automation, in melting down of the gold, and artificial intelligence, which can help us establish and visualise the future of the circular economy.
The future of e-waste doesn’t have to be in landfill. In fact, it holds potential, and monetary profit, for many companies globally.