Technological garbage, a problem with many solutions

Is named electronic waste or technological waste waste originating from electrical and electronic components or devices. Broken, irreparable, unusable, obsolete… Technology advances very quickly and, as is the case with any area of ​​the current economyyour rapid progress leaves by the way tons of waste. The good news is that we know the alternatives to reduce that waste: restore, reuse and recycle. The bad news is that it is not done correctly. In 2019, only 17% of electronic waste was treated correctly.

Televisions, computer screens, computer towers, mobile phones, smart or not, tablets, sound equipment, refrigerators and freezers, fans and air conditioners, electronic toys, industrial, medical or other sector machinery… The list is endless. And the worst of all is that what we call e waste has a value. At best, its components can be put to good use. And in the worst case, the materials from which they are made can be reused. In both, the ultimate goal is to create new machines.

But for various reasons, mainly his economic viabilitytons of technological garbage ends up in technological dumps. Many times in countries where that garbage was not generated. A missed opportunity to recover components and raw materials instead of polluting the planet with harmful materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, sulfur and many others.

Opportunity where many see a problem

You just have to look at nature. What we humans consider waste, remains or waste, other animal or plant species find food there. An endless food chain that we can apply to our economic system to make it more sustainable. The idea that everything is used has taken hold in a certain way, hence the popularity of the three R’s (reduce, recycle and reuse), but there is a problem. Not all waste is incorporated into nature with the same speed with which we consume it. Or put another way, the accumulated materials in a technological landfill they will take decades or centuries to be reabsorbed. Along the way, every day we extract tons of these materials from the mines to continue creating, over time, more electronic waste.

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The most paradoxical thing is that many of those materials that we find inside smartphones and televisions are few and complicated to find Wouldn’t it be easier to extract them from obsolete or abandoned devices than to continue extracting them from remote places with disastrous results for their ecosystems? Interestingly, there is already leading materials in recycling such as steel, aluminium, plastics such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or HDPE (high density polyethylene), glass, paper or other lesser known ones such as concrete, motor oil or lead acid batteries.

Going back to electronic waste, manufacturers like Manzana They have a program to encourage customers to return devices they no longer use. Depending on how old it is and its condition, you will receive money in exchange to purchase new products. Even if the customer does not receive anything in return, an external company will take care of separating the components for recover materials that will serve to create new devices. In addition, each new product uses recycled materials. This strategy is not the perfect solution, since dozens of new models of Apple devices are launched every year, but at least it tries to give them a second use.

Recycle when it can no longer be extracted?

Everything indicates that certain practices will not spread until they are the only possible solution. Millions of people stopped using their vehicles only when they were forced to quarantine in their homes. And the maritime and air traffic of people and merchandise also reduced its flow during these quarantines, seeing the benefits for the planet in a few days. But the world economic system is created so that it does not stop. If you do, the damage can be extensive.

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So the only hope for certain productive sectors is that they run out of raw materials and have to recycle those that are already scattered in electronic dumps. For example, more than 60% of the gold on earth has already been extracted. When there is no more gold left in the mines, will they be the dumps the new mines? Will the same thing happen with other precious materials such as tin, palladium or copper?

In this aspect, there is an added problem. The main countries that generate electronic waste have been transporting this waste to other countries for years, where environmental laws are more lax. In that transport, the track is lost. with which it will be difficult to know where to find the materials that will run out in the coming decades. Secondly. Countries that previously received such waste, such as China, India or African countries such as Nigeria, have been rejecting some of these shipments for years, which in turn leads to tons of electronic waste ends up burningand generating polluting gases, or discharging directly into the oceans.

A future that you have to think about now

Experts say that since 2000, electronic waste has increased from 20 million to 50 million tons per year. And if this continues, by 2050 we will have reached 111 million tons of technological waste per year. That is, if we don’t finish off the necessary materials to manufacture machines and electronic devices. Be that as it may, all experts agree that certain changes are necessary to our economic system of production. And some talk about drastic changes.

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On the optimistic side, we have the advance of technology itself is finding more efficient alternatives in terms of energy and use of materials. There are already those who promote the recycling of devices and governments around the world legislate in this regard. Formulas are also being found for recover the materials and make them useful again.

On the negative side, the wheel of the constant manufacturing of devices does not stop. And we do not have enough to recycle all that mountain of electronic waste. In smartphones alone, dozens of new device models are launched on the market every year. The previous ones become obsolete and many end up being discarded despite continuing to work.

One of the most accepted solutions among experts and scientists is for the current economy to adapt to a circular system. The circular economy, a true reflection of the functioning of any ecosystem found in nature. No waste is generated, it becomes part of the economy in an endless circle. But for that economy to work, many things must change in the economy of current linear growth. Nor do armed conflicts, pandemics or economic crises help. In adverse situations, the world economic system defends itself by returning to old practices.

To end with something optimistic. In local and regional spheres, initiatives are carried out on a small or medium scale that have to do with give a second life to obsolete electronics, recycle materials that until now were not recycled because they were economically unviable, promoting the circular economy, even in small areas or communities, etc. In part, pioneering initiatives that, if carried out on a large scale, would give surprising results.

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