Campaigning for change
E for Good is campaigning for change. We are concerned about e-waste – how much of it there is, what it’s made of, what happens to it when we throw it away and how we’re wasting the planet’s scarce resources.
We’re coming at this from a sustainability perspective, but we’re not ignoring the business side, so we’re not just pushing for others to change but showing how it can be done. We’re setting up new systems for collection, disposal and procurement of e-products and making sure that the organisations and companies we’re working with meet our standards. To achieve this, we are drawing up charters that demonstrate ‘good practice’ – for schools, for companies, for retailers and for local government, which will cover all these things.
Despite EU andUKlegislation, one of the most worrying aspects of the e-waste industry is that there are lots of scams and illegal activity as companies and individuals try to exploit the system. In some cases this means stripping out precious raw materials, like copper and rare metals, from fully functioning products -and trashing what’s left. In other cases it means exporting large amounts of e-stuff, like televisions and computers, that are supposed to be in ‘good working order’ but are actually not. Much of this ends up in waste dumps in developing countries, where poor people, including children, pick through the toxic debris from our throwaway consumer culture.
Legislation is muddled
We think that legislation on e-waste should be clear, simple to operate and effectively enforced. It is none of those things. It is a complete muddle and there are insufficient resources to make sure that what should happen actually does.
We were surprised to discover that companies who are obliged to pay for recycling have to guess how much they need to collect at the beginning of each year. And if their estimates are too far out they are penalised. The worst thing about this is that this system actually discourages companies from collecting and recycling as much as they possibly can.
And where the legislation requires retailers to take back used e-products for recycling, it also provides them with an opt-out system, where they pay money to avoid this responsibility. If you’re confused by this, then so are we.
We’re promoting repair and reuse
Another failure of government is promoting reuse. They have set a paltry 5% target for reuse of electrical and electronic products. We think this is pathetic and could easily be dramatically increased. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve chosen to work with Environcom. They are already refurbishing 15% of the e-products they receive and they have a target of increasing this to 30% within a couple of years. They’re also a company that’s prepared to take a lead. Sean Feeney, the CEO, says that he wants to be part of the solution rather than simply ‘not being part of the problem’. This is the approach we want to encourage across the entire e-waste industry.
We think that we should be bringing back a culture of repair and making things last. So often, when you buy a product that has a very small defect, or some tiny part that needs replacing – the manufacturer will tell you that there’s no point fixing it. They advise you to simply chuck it away and send you a new one. Printers are a classic example of this.
In 2011, one of us managed to get through three printers – in an office with only two people working in it. This was simply because repairing the machines would have cost more than replacing it with an up-graded model. And we discovered that recycling the old machines isn’t very cost efficient either, because new machines are so cheap no-one is interested in buying a second hand one.
Leasing and hiring make sense
One solution to the printer conundrum would be to lease the equipment from manufacturers – and pay a monthly fee, or a fee based on the number of copies you print. This would give manufactures an incentive to make equipment that lasts because they would have to bear the costs of any repairs that might be needed.
There are also opportunities for short term hiring of equipment. Garden equipment, like hedge cutters, strimmers and mowers would be suitable for this, as well as tools such as electric drills, paint strippers and sanding machines. Most households only use these sort of things for short periods – or sometimes even for one-off jobs – so, it makes much more sense to rent them for a few days, rather than own them and use only a few times.
Proper recycling is needed
Of course, not all e-products can be reused, so we want to recycle, as much as possible of what’s left. But we’re not just proposing recycling – we want it to be done properly. You only have to see huge piles of computers, TVs, irons and cookers being pulverised into thousands of little bits to realise that this isn’t necessarily the best that can be done. In some cases we should be extracting spare parts from products and removing valuable metals before putting materials through clunky and indiscriminate recycling systems.
We’re putting today’s WEEE Man on a diet
As we’ve mentioned at the beginning, the first and most tricky problem to address is how much e-waste there is. In 2005 the WEEE Man was built (WEEE stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). He represents the amount of e-waste that one person would have consumed in their lifetime – and he’s huge – 7 metres high. He’s currently living at the Eden Centre inCornwall.
The most shocking thing is that if the WEEE man was built today, only 7 years later he’d have to be more than three times the size. We want to put this WEEE man on a serious diet – and dramatically reduce his size. To do this we need to consume less and avoid endlessly replacing and upgrading products.
Eco-design is the answer
Perhaps the best way of addressing this is through design. We are planning to develop the ‘E for Good Award’ to reward innovation, eco-design and durability. Let us know about any examples of good practice that you know about – and if you’d like to work with us on this. We’ll also be highlighting bad practice to show where things are going wrong – and what we should be avoiding.
Reduce, repair, reuse, recycle…..
In short, we are campaigning to reduce the amount of e-waste, to increase repair of e-products, to reuse whatever makes sense and to efficiently recycle the rest. And we urge you to help us along the way.