Akhila is a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she i...
E-Waste and End of the Line CSR
Computers sure are handy when they are working but once they've chewed their last byte, things can get a little messy. For years, developed countries have been exporting tons of electronic waste for inexpensive, labor-intensive recycling and disposal. Though the Indian Supreme Court banned the import of hazardous waste in 1997, e-waste still enters the country under the guise of charitable or re-usable materials, all duty-free.
The amount of e-waste is growing at an estimated 40 million tons each year. By 2020, China will have between 200% and 400% more e-waste than it did in 1997. It will also discard seven times as many cellphones and throw out up to twice the number of television sets than it previously did. It is estimated that the US alone exports 80% of its e-waste to China, India and Pakistan. According to Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO, India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of e-waste domestically, with the booming IT sector being the largest contributor, as 30% of its machines reach obsolescence annually. Bangalore alone generates 8,000 tons a year.
This end of the line problem of disposal is an essential part of CSR that electronic manufacturers should take note of. Lisa Jackson announced recently that the reduction of e-wastes is part of the EPA's global aims. In the near-term, EPA will focus on ways to improve the design, production, handling, reuse, recycling, exporting and disposal of electronics.
Several electronics manufacturers are taking notice of this growing global problem and are offering solutions as part of their CSR initiative to reduce the impact of e-wastes. Best Buy recycles appliances and accepts mail-in mobile phone recycling. Most large companies like Apple, Epson, Dell, Nokia, HP, IBM typically recycle end-of-life products for free or for a small fee, or offer them for reuse.
Other than ensuring that electronics are recycled end-of-life, it is also a good idea to buy sustainably manufactured electronics. Greenpeace publishes a green electronics guide that rates the greenest electronic manufacturers. Recycling discarded electronics is a profitable trade and one can extract more gold out of a ton of electronics than a ton of gold-bearing rock. Some of the gold extracted from e-wastes was upcycled into medals for the recent Olympic games.
Recycling is often done in developing nations, where labor costs are lower and environmental and health regulations less stringent. Even companies that explicitly claim to process e-waste safely and locally have been found to have illegally shipped containers of waste to developing countries. In order to avoid this, Dell officially banned the export of e-waste to developing countries by its contractors or intermediaries. HP has also updated it global corporate policy to include a similar ban and it has the ambitious goal to recycle 2 billion pounds of e-waste by the end of 2010.
As part of its global CSR strategy, Nokia India has launched a recycling program for hand-sets regardless of what brand they are. Apple which has been criticized for being slow to phase out toxic chemicals in its products has an ambitious recycling program where they aim to recycle 19 million pounds of e-waste per year by 2010. Using industry innovation and resources to tackle the growing problem of e-waste is a clever CSR strategy and a much needed one. Rendering electronic components to the landfill is a waste of resources, a source of pollution and a waste of valuable metal that can be reused.