Electronic waste excluded from COP26 agenda

The International Data Sanitation Consortium (IDSC) has urged COP26 President Alok Sharma to put e-waste on the climate summit agenda, calling its exclusion a missed opportunity to foster commitment to the circular economy.

According to the United Nations’ (UN) Global e-waste monitor 2020, e-waste is the fastest growing household waste stream in the world, with a record 53.6 million metric tons (Mt) generated in 2019 alone. He predicted that by 2030, global e-waste will reach 74 Mt annually .

The IDSC, which was established in 2017 to standardize terminology and practices in the data sanitation industry, said in an open letter to Sharma that, as the second largest producer of e-waste per capita in the world, the UK has the opportunity to set an example in this area.

“As President of COP26, your role in ensuring that the UK is a leader in promoting greener and more sustainable waste management models is critical to addressing our climate emergency, and is one that our technology-driven society can support with the right policies and incentives, ”he said, adding that there has been a total disregard for e-waste in the UK government’s Net Zero strategy and the Ten Point Green Plan.

“This is a missed opportunity to foster a greater commitment to the circular economy,” he continued. “Where current government strategies have outlined intentions to create solutions to reduce emissions, opportunities to promote and incentivize increased reuse and recycling of scarce materials and functional products have been overlooked.

“While pursuing renewable energy sources and reducing CO2 emissions is a global imperative, the UK government’s roadmap suggests this will take time. The implementation of sustainable models that address e-waste can be done in the immediate future and should be seriously considered. “

In addition, it requested that the UK government provide guidance to both organizations and consumers on how to move away from current attitudes towards end-of-life IT and electronic equipment, where items are simply thrown away and replaced. , rather than reuse or recycle them.

Part of this guidance, he added, would need to consider reforming the data sanitation policy, with the goal of installing good data management practices so that IT equipment can be reused, refurbished or recycled without the security concern of the exposed data.

“We, IDSC, believe that there is a clear relationship between data protection technology, e-waste reduction and the growth of the circular economy,” he said. “Organizations are not sure how they can participate in the circular economy, as data regulation and public sector policy do not advocate for the reuse of assets containing data.

“Through this letter, we ask for your support in raising awareness of the need to immediately address the issue of e-waste and unlock the potential of the circular economy. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this in more detail. “

Adam Read, President of the Collegiate Institution for Waste Management (CIWM), also described the lack of e-waste on the COP26 agenda as “critical oversight”, further calling on world leaders to recognize the crucial role recycling and resource management have to play in supporting decarbonization.

Sharma, who was previously a trade secretary, was appointed president of COP26 in January 2021, but has retained his cabinet status. Computer Weekly contacted Sharma and the Cabinet Office for comment, but received no response at time of publication. The IDSC added that it has also not received any recognition from him.

E-waste is a top priority for IT professionals

According to a separate IT industry survey conducted by BCS in the run-up to COP26, ending e-waste was the main response IT experts gave when asked which technology-related actions governments and businesses should implement first.

After e-waste (30%), respondents chose carbon transparency reporting (19%) and making data centers truly “green” (14%) as the first actions to take. Another 61% said they were not confident that digital technologies were being used effectively against climate change, while 64% expressed concern that the UK workforce does not currently have the right digital skills to achieve Net Zero .

“Rather than relying on new devices as soon as we have a failure, ‘right to repair’ legislation should begin to make it easier for people to extend the life of their devices,” said Alex Bardell, president of BCS Green Specialist Group. in you. “If your car’s starter failed, you’d go to the garage and buy a new part, rather than throwing the car away.

“The challenge is that the business model for electronics companies is to push their products, such as smartphones, in smaller and smaller time cycles as a way to generate revenue and it really doesn’t have to be that way. It takes a combined political, social and commercial will to put the planet ahead of an increasingly stringent upgrade cycle. “

John Booth, Vice President of BCS, added: “E-waste issues are just one of many issues that need to be addressed in the ICT industry, as well as the energy efficiency and sustainability of data centers and their response. to the climate emergency. it has been limited so far, although I am hopeful that progress will be made sooner rather than later. “

In March 2021, IDSC’s Fredrik Forslund told Computer Weekly that implementing proper data sanitation processes with audit trails would help tech companies reuse their IT equipment by giving them more confidence that a device can be used. re-implement without the risk of privacy violations.

He added that technology companies should also collaborate in the supply chain to standardize “eco-labels,” which would work in a similar way to ingredients in food packaging, so companies know exactly what materials their IT equipment contains and, therefore, how to recycle them. This is important as many rare earth metals used in electronics can produce toxic waste if not treated properly.

EAC Research

In November 2020, an investigation by the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) found that the country is lagging behind other nations in integrating a circular economy of product use, reuse and recycling. small electronics, and that the vast majority of waste is not properly treated.

“A large part goes to landfill, incineration or is dumped abroad. Under current laws, producers and retailers of electronic products are responsible for this waste, but they are clearly not meeting that responsibility, ”wrote the EAC, noting that approximately 40% of electronic waste in the UK is sent abroad, what “is illegal.”

He added that “despite all their declared sustainability protests,” major online retailers like Amazon have avoided committing to the circular economy by not collecting or recycling electronics in the same way that other types of organizations do.

Given the astronomical growth in online vendor sales, particularly this year during the coronavirus pandemic, the EAC calls on online marketplaces to collect products and pay for their recycling to create a level playing field with physical retailers and producers who are not selling on their platforms, “he said.

The EAC also found that actual electronics producers, such as Apple, are intentionally shortening the life of their products, while “making any repair nearly impossible” by gluing and soldering the internal components, leaving the consumers with little control over devices. they have.

“They can’t take out components to repair themselves and they can’t access manuals on how to fix problems,” he said. “By contrast, the proposed repair charges by Apple in particular can be so expensive that it is cheaper to replace the entire item.”

While the UK introduced right to repair legislation in March 2021, it does not cover smartphones and laptops, key products contributing to the problem, despite its inclusion of “electronic displays”.

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