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Big tech needs to step up to the mark when it comes to tackling electronic waste

Global technology giants should be made responsible for helping to collect, recycle and repair their products, according to a report from UK MPs.

In the UK as estimated 155,000 tonnes of electronics waste is simply thrown away each year and the UK is said to be lagging behind other countries and failing to create a circular economy in electronic waste.

The UK currently creates the second highest levels of electronic waste in the world, after Norway, and according to the MP’s is not collecting and treating waste properly, with the majority going to landfill, incineration or dumped overseas.

“Under current laws producers and retailers of electronics are responsible for this waste, yet they are clearly not fulfilling that responsibility,” the MPs said. In fact, about 40% of the UK’s e-waste is sent abroad, and often done illegally.

Globally, electronic waste could be worth $62.5bn each year due to the valuable metals they contain, such as gold, silver, copper, platinum, tungsten and indium.

According to the MPs companies like Amazon and eBay are ‘freeriding’. Why? Well for the purpose of current legislation they are not considered to be retailers or producers, and are therefore not legally liable to contribute to the collection and recycling of e-waste.

Big tech companies claim to promote sustainability and environmental awareness but it appears that too many of them are failing to do their bit or, even worse, are actually avoiding playing their part when it comes to collecting or recycling electronic waste.

According to the MPs, “Given the astronomical growth in sales by online vendors, particularly this year during the coronavirus pandemic, online marketplaces should collect products and pay for their recycling to create a level playing field with physical retailers and producers that are not selling on their platforms.”

Recently New Electronics looked at the issue of repairability and the report by MPs condemned the “built-in obsolescence” in many electronic products – which includes the practice of intentionally shortening the lifespan of products.

Due to the way in which products are designed, components cannot be removed for repair and if products are sent for repair to the manufacturer, the costs of doing so are usually prohibitive, which means that consumers simply end up buying a new one.

Both Apple and Amazon, who were singled out by MPs’ in the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, denied that they were failing to address the issue – but then they would, wouldn’t they?

Apple’s argument that more recycled material is being used in its components is all well and good, but by making it near impossible to repair its devices what’s the point? What’s wrong with providing longer lasting products that can be repaired?

Tech companies need to change their approach and if they really do want to ‘walk the talk’ then they need to start taking the issue of repairability seriously, and take a lead in creating more sustainable and environmentally friendly business models.

Neil Tyler

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