April 22nd is Earth Day. One can step back and marvel at our planet’s achievements, especially when it comes to tech– more connections, more gadgets, doing more with technology than ever before, for example, but with all these advancements, where does the environment come into play? Global technological growth continues to produce an amazing amount of waste each year: E-waste. The occasion of Earth Day is a good time to reflect on how much e-waste we’re creating and its effect on our environment, health, and even our data.
The range of devices and machines that continue to come into our lives also are converting into a growing amount of electronic trash despite improving recycling efforts. When it comes to Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE), we’re talking anything with power or a battery supply, from business machines to household appliances, and TVs, computes and mobile phones. When these items get discarded with no intent to reuse, (but also sometimes intent to reuse, see further on), they become e-waste. Disposing of these devices isn’t that easy, and the problem of e-waste piling up in landfills and being shipped around the globe became a problem even the United Nations takes notice of. They created an organization called StEP (Solving the world’s E-waste Problem) to help come up with strategies and push for better policies and programs to promote recycling and management back in 2014 and that lead to other things like a Global E-waste Monitor trying to keep on top of things. With the help of global tech manufacturers and an increasing number of government bodies initiatives have increased and made an impact.
However, as you probably have noticed the last number of years, the amount of devices we create and use doesn’t seem to be getting smaller, and thus, the global generation of e-waste keeps growing. In 2019 we created 53.6 million Metric tons (Mt) of e-waste. That’s an increase of 9.2 Mt since 2014 and almost double what it was 16 years ago. Like we mentioned, recycling activities are making a dent however. In 2019 documented collection was 9.3 Mt. It’s something, but definitely not on pace with the growth. The unknown nature of a lot of what happens when we dispose of things is concerning also. Much of that 53.6 Mt is “still exported illegally or under the guise of being for reuse or pretending to be scrap” and so who knows what the environmental impact is across various regions. Despite attention in recent years, the increasing growth of our e-waste is making it hard for programs to keep up.
Here at CBL we deal with both new and old electronics regularly. Re-use and recycling initiatives for tech are in place at our facilities but interestingly, the biggest candidates for e-waste, hard drives, are rarely an issue because we keep old HDDs for future use as parts and data transfer requirements. When it comes to e-waste our main concern is both the environment and data security. Storage devices such as hard drives are often re-used instead of discarded because they can be ‘wiped’ and put into other computers to find new use. However, there is a persistent risk of private and confidential information left on discarded drives posing a serious potential security risk. There is no shortage of interested parties from the world of organized crime that partake in identity theft and other forms of fraud that would like to find treasures from your discarded computer data. We delve into data security threats like this on Platter Chatter often. We recommend you discard with discretion and securely erase a drive when getting rid of an old computer or upgrading. Check out CBL Data Shredder, a utility we made to wipe drives clean and give you peace of mind. When it comes to e-waste, we want to keep hard drives out of landfills and private data out of the wrong hands.
With the constant growth of tech products on the market, shorter lifecycles and fewer options to repair devices, often our electronics just end up in the trash. But where do they go once discarded? The amount of metals, chemicals and other materials that make up complex electronics makes them both unwanted trash in many countries and potentially lucrative trade items. This has consistently lead them to be shipped around the globe to landfills and ‘informal’ disposal sites where things like monitors and printed circuit boards are melted down for scrap. Not only do these destinations tend to be poorer developing nations but the act of breaking things down causes levels of toxins in the air, water and threats to people’s health to skyrocket. Popular e-waste destinations long have included countries like Ghana, Tanzania and China. But as more countries have made policy progress to control collection there is new data that even countries like China are now exporting e-waste further abroad to other Southeast Asia and African nations. This direction of waste seems to change as regulations are enacted and economic situations fluctuate but the problem is one that will remain as our electronic waste continues to pile up.
As our need for more data storage, more computing power, and more devices continues to grow and evolve, so does the looming question of what to do with discarded wares and how to manage effects on our environment. This Earth Day, think about how you can recycle, protect yourself and your data because more electronic trash means more environmental problems for our planet.