Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Electronic reuse and recycling is reducing e-waste dumping, but too slowly

According to a study from Pike Research, the challenge created by ever-increasing amounts of e-waste is being mitigated by strong growth in the reuse and recycling of electronic equipment. The volume and weight of equipment that has reached the end of its life will more than double in the next 15 years, but electronics recycling and reuse will increase seven-fold in the same period. In fact by the early 2020s the amount that will be recycled and reused will be more than the annual weight of electronic devices that become e-waste, the report predicts.

The total volume and weight of end-of-life electronics is expected to rise from 6.0 million tons in 2010 to 14.9 million tons by 2025. As a result, industry players, governments and advocacy groups will be looking for new ways to expand electronics recycling and reuse to prevent the environmental hazard of burying or burning. Fortunately, electronics recycling and reuse will rise from 1.1 million tons a year in 2010 to 7.9 million tons annually by 2025. But it’s still not fast enough to prevent the total volume of e-waste going to landfills from increasing throughout the period.

Pike’s analyst, Bob Boggio, said that trans-boundary shipments of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries continues and the informal recovery of components and materials in developing countries remains a concern for human health and the environment. The gap between dumping and reuse/recycling may be narrowed if national and regional governments modify their legislation to close loopholes.


The research agrees with the findings of SBI Energy, which I reported on just before Christmas. SBI’s focus was on the global market for services around the recycling and re-use of e-waste, worth close to $6.8bn in 2010, up 10% from $6.2bn the year before.

But there must be a large number of unknowns in all the estimates, not least relating to the expected lifecycle of equipment. The increasing speed with which manufacturers introduce new devices to encourage sales doesn’t look likely to slow down.

That’s not the only problem. has pointed out that two major disk drive manufacturers - Western Digital and Seagate – have just shorten the guarantee of their hard drives, Seagate by as much as 50% in some cases (more for bare drives). It leaves IT managers with the choice of the cost of the optional extended warranty or to renew their equipment more frequently. That’s a step backwards.

(Finally, for future studies in this area there’s a need to agree on terminology. For Pike, equipment that’s no longer required for the purpose it was originally acquired (end-of-life) is known as e-scrap. E-scrap that’s not recycled, reused, or stored becomes e-waste. The distinction is a necessary one, but the labels are probably better used the other way round).

© The Green IT Review

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