Big Tech backs plan to tackle e-waste crisis

21 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

PARIS: Major technology firms including Dell, Microsoft and Google have joined a new initiative aimed at creating a circular economy for electronics by 2030, amid mounting alarm over the world's ballooning e-waste problem.

The project comes as humanity's insatiable appetite for smartphones, household appliances and electronic car parts combined with the short lifespans of many tech products has made e-waste the planet's fastest growing refuse, reports AFP.

According to the United Nations, more than 50 million tonnes of electronic waste was discarded in 2019, with the vast majority ending up in landfill and on scrap heaps.

Those products contain gold, silver, copper and platinum as well as highly-prized rare earth metals.

With only 17 percent of products recycled, the UN estimates that materials worth more than $55 billion (50 billion euros) are being wasted every year.

Meanwhile, more must be mined to make new products, sparking environmental and human rights fears.

The new initiative, led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum, has outlined a vision for how industry might break this habit.

But this is only a first step and does not include financial commitments or firm targets, the groups caution.

Companies taking part include Cisco, Dell Technologies, Glencore, Google, KPMG International, Microsoft, Sims Limited and Vodafone.

"We can't continue to assume that we can produce as many products as we want without thinking about what happens at end of life," said Brendan Edgerton of the WBCSD, adding that electronics involved include "everything with a plug or a battery".

Ideas range from designing products so that precious metals are easier to extract, to creating an "eco label" system, but Edgerton said the initial step was more modest -- coming up with a shared idea of what a circular economy might look like.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that when one company is going in one direction, another company isn't going in a different direction with the same goal," he told AFP.