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50 million tonnes of e-waste: IT faces sustainability challenges

By Sara Barker
Mon 18 Feb 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

As the world’s sustainability problems grow in scope and complexity, more people are now aware how their travel and lifestyles affect the environment – from hazardous emissions to climate change and the effects on endangered species.

However, the impact of IT waste is less well known, which is why TCO Development is aiming to create awareness about more sustainable IT recycling practices.

TCO Development operates TCO Certified, a sustainability certification for IT products. Its new awareness campaign, dubbed ‘This is IT’, addresses the issues of e-waste, dwindling natural resources such as minerals extraction, and hazardous substances in IT products.

TCO says that as global demand for IT products increases, many of those products have a short lifespan.

According to UN and World Economic Forum studies, the yearly global volume of e-waste is approximately 50 million tonnes – which is the equivalent in weight of all commercial aircraft ever built.

What’s more, in 2016 only 20% of e-waste was recycled globally. Such a lack of recycling has a direct effect on natural resources. That yearly loss of resources is worth about 55 billion euros.

TCO says the answer lies in a more circular approach to IT products. TCO developed a new generation of TCO Certified (Generation 8) that focuses on circularity. It requires that products are durable, repairable and upgradable so they can last longer and be reused.

Materials must also be recyclable and able to be reused in the manufacture of new products – instead of being incinerated, dumped in landfill, or exported to developing countries where material is handled in unsafe and potentially toxic ways.

“Western Africa and parts of Asia are common dumping grounds for e-waste exports. In these countries, local populations make a living by extracting and selling valuable materials. Products are manually disassembled, burned in the open air or dissolved in acid by local labourers including children, without adequate protective equipment.

“Electronic products contain a number of toxic substances hazardous to human health, with documented risk to the brain nervous system, lungs and kidneys as well as links to certain cancers. Toxic residues can leak and contaminate the soil, air and water, affecting surrounding ecosystems where the local communities grow their food, hunt and fish.”

"The new generation of TCO Certified is our largest step yet toward circular and sustainable IT products,” says TCO Development’s director of purchaser engagement, global, Clare Hobby.

IT buyers and industry must work together to achieve greater sustainability, which is why TCO developed the ‘This is IT’ campaign. A two-minute video draws attention to the critical environmental and social issues and urges all stakeholders to do their part in driving positive change.

“Through This is IT, we want to help people better understand the problem of today’s linear “take, make, dispose” thinking around IT products and its effects like e-waste, pollution and climate change. Most importantly, we want to inspire action and talk about how we all need to contribute to solving these problems,” Hobby concludes.

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