In our latest article, our experts explore how technological advancements are reshaping our world and the crucial need for sustainable disposal methods to mitigate the environmental impact of electronic waste (e-waste).
Innovation through technological advancement can bring about many positive changes, such as creating new industries and jobs, promoting economic growth, designing new electronic devices, and improving our quality of life. However, it is crucial to consider the potential downsides resulting from innovation, including environmental hazards such as e-waste, job displacement, and privacy concerns. Therefore, it is vital to approach technological advancement with a balanced perspective considering its potential benefits and corresponding risks.
As Nigeria continues to experience rapid growth in the use of electronic devices, there is a corresponding increase in the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) generated. The improper disposal of e-waste in Nigeria has resulted in significant environmental and health hazards, and it is crucial to find sustainable solutions to address this issue.
Electronic waste is one of the global environmental impacts of innovation through technological advancement. TCO Certified asserted that E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing solid waste due to society’s ever-increasing need to discover efficient ways of carrying out day-to-day operations through innovation and technological advancement.
Nigeria is a significant importer of Used Electrical Electronic Equipment (UEEE). UEEE are unwanted and discarded electrical or electronic devices that do not function as they should. As a developing country, Nigeria imports UEEE to access affordable electronic gadgets that would have been unavailable or a lot more expensive. The import also creates jobs and economic opportunities in the country.
However, importing E-waste causes environmental degradation and a host of health hazards, making local communities vulnerable to these negative impacts.
Electronic wastes are discarded electronic products like mobile phones, laptops, electronic toys, medical equipment like MRI scanners, rechargeable batteries, and kitchen appliances like toasters, among others.
Currently, most e-waste are disposed recklessly without minding the environmental and health risks associated with improper disposal techniques like disposal in regular trash bins, disposal through unauthorized e-waste collectors, failure to erase personal data, hoarding e-waste at home or attempting to disassemble and salvage parts at home.
Reckless disposal of e-waste could potentially expose one to toxic substances that could lead to death, cancer, neurological disorders, reproductive problems and so on for the community where the waste is disposed and those who directly manage the waste without proper care.
According to the founder of the ‘Association of Vendors of Used Computers and Allied Products (AVUCAP)’ who was a dealer at the famous ‘Ikeja computer village’ in Nigeria, the death of his colleagues in Ikeja prompted his decision to become a formal E-waste collector.
It is normal to find dealers at the computer village in Ikeja working on e-waste using primitive recycling techniques that release hazardous gases into the environment. These gases threaten the health of the community and dealers that are exposed to them without personal protective equipment (PPE). Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) finds evidence linking exposure to e-waste as one of the causes of health issues in adults and children.
Electronic waste, when properly disposed of, reused, refurbished, resold, and salvaged through recycling and material recovery can positively affect our environment and economy. Recovering and recycling e-waste provides job opportunities and inevitably improves the economy. The current Managing Director of Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) affirmed that there are a lot of opportunities in the recycling industry, further stating that about 104 recycling companies and over 6,000 informal recyclers as of 2022 are current operators in this ecosystem and that transcends to the employment they create and the income generating capability of this industry.
Globally, about 17.4% of e-waste was adequately documented and collected, according to the World Economic Forum (2020). This is a negative indicator as it signifies a host of health hazards, negative environmental impacts, loss of non-renewable resources, and so much more.
Lithium, gold, aluminium, cobalt, and many others are non-renewable resources found in technology. These natural resources cannot be regenerated or replenished at a rate that sustains consumption. When e-waste is not recycled, there is a possibility of loss of these resources. Recovered resources can be utilized for new products, this reduces the extraction rate of resources and the negative environmental and social impact of extraction.
As the world changes, the approach to healthcare, transportation, finance, entertainment and so on has also evolved through emerging technologies. Emerging technologies are new, exciting innovations transforming how individuals and organizations conduct their daily activities.
Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain technology, 5G wireless technology, Autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things, Renewable energy technologies, and so much more are examples of emerging technologies today. They are disrupting existing industries (e.g., AI) or creating new ones like Renewable energy technologies.
Emerging technologies increase e-waste generation because these technologies require rare earth metals like Neodymium, Terbium, Lanthanum, and other resources that are a bit tricky to recycle.
Today, mobile devices are packed with outstanding performance, processors, and speed for example. Unfortunately, this implies that they require additional parts to ensure they deliver as they ought to. These extra components mean extra parts to recycle appropriately.
What can we do?
Consumer’s Perspective: Consumers play a crucial role in eliminating e-waste and leading sustainability through individual efforts that produce collective progress. In this tech-hungry era, it is essential not to follow trends when purchasing devices and gadgets that aren’t needed. It is prevalent that purchasing decisions are made based on needs rather than wants.
Currently, it is trendy to replace old devices as soon as newer models are released, which is not sustainable and contributes to the ever-increasing e-waste. An efficient technique to combat this practice is to use our electronic gadgets to the end of their useful life and go a step further to extend their life through periodic maintenance.
Educating ourselves on e-waste and the negative impact is beneficial in the long run as it spurs us to research and patronize environmentally conscious brands with product takeback programs and other creative techniques that encourages sustainable e-waste management.
Life Cycle Assessment: Identifying potential impact of a product, service or process is vital to curb the effect of e-waste on our environment and health. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) assesses a product, service, or process from the beginning to the end of its life. This assists organizations in identifying opportunities to reduce their environmental impacts, improve their sustainability, and communicate their performance to stakeholders.
A standard LCA would consider all stages of the product life cycle and identify ways to reduce the environmental impact and e-waste of the product. This is done through re-inventing manufacturing processes, utilizing more eco-friendly materials, and creating products that last longer or are easier to maintain, repair, recycle, and upgrade.
Considering the end-of-life of this product, service, or process is crucial to e-waste management. Creating simulations of how consumers treat their products once it is at the end of their useful life provides accurate information for companies.
Product swapping, trade-ins, product takeback programs, and opportunities to rent or subscribe to the product/service for a specified period without an outright purchase are some of the few techniques organizations could adopt to reduce e-waste.
Sustainable Design: Sustainable design is creating products, processes, and services with sustainability principles in mind, such as energy efficiency, the use of sustainable materials, circular design and so on.
Instrumental to reducing e-waste, sustainable design will help prioritize the repairability potential of the product, help with durability, and the ability to upgrade and recycle the unit. This reduces the amount of electronic waste in landfills and promotes a circular economy.
Government Incentives Government can be a powerful motivator for promoting sustainable practices. Utilizing instruments like financial incentives through tax breaks or subsidies encourages individuals and businesses to recycle their e-waste or produce and purchase eco-friendly products.
The 2022 “National Environmental (Electrical/Electronic Sector) Regulation” prohibits the importation of E-waste and provides guidance on the prevention and management of E-waste in Nigeria.
Governments would also benefit from investments targeted at educating people on the need for recycling and proper waste management. Investments can be made in developing e-waste recycling infrastructure, like collection points and recycling facilities. This creates a system that encourages individuals to dispose waste properly.To ensure success in data analytics initiatives, organisations should prioritise these critical success factors, and by emphasising these factors, organisations can effectively leverage data analytics to drive significant business results, whether they are starting or expanding their existing capabilities.
In conclusion, sustainable e-waste management practices in Nigeria require a collective effort from individuals, groups, and organizations. It is essential to prioritize the implementation of best practices, such as reducing e-waste generation, reusing, recycling, and ensuring proper disposal of e-devices. Proper e-waste management techniques include donating or selling usable devices, using certified e-waste recyclers, or adequately disposing of them at designated collection centres to minimize environmental and health hazards.
Lastly, as the use of technology increases, it is critical to embed sustainability at every stage. At Mazars, we ensure an integrated approach to a more sustainable future for electronic devices and their impact on our planet.