A large proportion of the electronic goods disposed of in the UK eventually end up in developing countries. The UN Environment Programme (Unep) said that up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly $19bn (£12bn), is illegally traded or dumped each year.

Some of this equipment is repaired and sold on, creating jobs and allowing access to cheap IT for those who would otherwise not benefit from it. In Accra, Ghana, for example, the refurb sector provides more than 30,000 jobs, and 80% of devices are either secondhand, repaired or refurbished.

However, as we’ve written in the past, there is a dark side to irresponsibly disposed electronics.

Arsenic

IT equipment contains a plethora of harmful toxins. For example, your mobile phone contains arsenic, lead and a host of other toxic materials that pose a threat to life when it is no longer usable.

If a phone is sent to landfill, these chemicals can leak into soil and groundwater.

Under appropriate conditions, recycling is safe. But if the recycling is conducted by a child with no safety gear on a rubbish tip, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Unfortunately, the latter is common.

Tearfund

This newly released Tearfund paper examines how product design standards could be used to enhance the livelihoods of those engaged in repair and recycling in poorer nations, as opposed to endangering them.

The paper drew three conclusions:

  1. Ambitious, open design standards could improve the livelihoods of repair and remanufacturing entrepreneurs in the Global South.
  2. Restrictive standards that allow manufacturers to exert a monopoly over repair and upgrade could damage these livelihoods.
  3. Restricting the use of hazardous chemicals (like those on the list of ‘Substances of Very High Concern’) could improve the health of huge numbers of children and adults currently involved in the informal recycling of electronics.

Whether this report will lead to actionable change remains to be seen. However, the increased attention that eWaste has been receiving in recent months is a great sign that change is coming. We’re passionate about making sure IT equipment equipment is disposed of responsibly to avoid issues like these.

If you would like to talk to an export at Tier 1 about responsibly disposing of your unwanted computers then call us on 0161 777 1000.

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