3 Global Megatrends Fueling the Growing Need for E-Waste Management and E-Recycling1
The growing need for improved e-waste management practices and more robust e-recycling programs is evident, as are many of the factors behind it. Among these, the acceleration of new technology adoption, the continuing rise in consumerism, and the work-from-home (WFH) movement spawned by the pandemic. A variety of other current trends contribute to the increased need, but beneath them all are three global megatrends: population growth, urbanization, and climate change.
These megatrends form the roots of the more obvious and immediate reasons behind the increasing need for improved e-waste management and reduction worldwide. Ultimately, it is these root causes that will shape our future.
The Impact of Population Growth on E-Waste Production
It’s no secret that the global population is rising. At the turn of the century there were 6.1 billion people on the planet. Today, there are well over 7.8 billion, a growth rate of more than 1% annually. Although the rate of increase is slowing, it’s predicted that the world’s population will pass 9.1 billion by 2050.
To put it simply, more people leads to more demand: Demand for buildings, transportation, raw materials, energy resources, food, and manufactured items all rise to meet the needs of humanity. In lock-step with this growing demand for basic necessities is the demand for the electronic and digital systems required to bring them to bear. In the digital age, nearly all industries rely on computers and electronic systems to some extent. Everything from heavy machinery and manufacturing equipment to data processing and hardware control typically requires electronic components.
In addition to requiring the necessities of life, the growing masses seek out entertainment, convenience, and connection. Personal computers and peripherals, handheld devices, and integrated smart technology all improve our quality of life … but at the cost of depleting natural resources, clogging landfills with obsolete tech, and poisoning our environment due to improper e-waste management.
Urbanization’s Role in Increasing E-Waste
Between the year 2000 and 2020, the percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas rose nine percentage points, from 47 to 56 percent. The U.N. predicts that by 2050, over 68 percent of all people will dwell in an urban environment.
According to a recent Reuters article, “Urbanization provides bigger markets and permits the development of increasingly complex manufacturing and service industries, raising urban productivity.” This, in turn, increases incomes and demand for energy, transportation, and consumer goods, all of which incorporate electronic components in one form or another.
Urbanization also leads to increased complexity in supporting infrastructure systems like power, sewer and water, mass-transit, and essential services. As complexity increases, so does the reliance on computer-controlled systems and electronic devices to monitor and manage their operation.
Unexpected Results of Climate Change on E-Waste Production
The effects of climate change have soaked deeper into the fabric of society than we ever anticipated. Due to the drastic changes in weather patterns, energy consumption has risen dramatically, particularly in developing countries. This added energy consumption leads to the burning of more fossil fuels, resulting in more carbon-monoxide emitted into the atmosphere, and further global warming. It’s a feedback loop that can’t continue.
As a result, legislation to regulate greenhouse gas production is accelerating rapidly as more countries look for ways to solve the problem of climate change. Unfortunately, many current solutions, like electric vehicles and alternative energy generation, also rely heavily on computer-based systems and electronic components.
This increased reliance on electronics creates more e-waste. The problem, however, is further exacerbated by the relatively short life expectancy of newly-developed technology. This means early incarnations of products designed to save energy and avert environmental catastrophe will actually lead to an initial surge in the amount of e-waste being generated worldwide. Proper planning and the advanced development of e-waste management policies and procedures, coupled with effective e-recycling programs, should serve to mitigate the negative impact.
Slowing or reversing the rates of population growth, urbanization, and climate change in the near future isn’t very likely without the use of drastic measures. As a species, the best we can hope for is the ability to better manage the effects of each as we search for long-term solutions.
Fortunately, the advent of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and ultra-fast global networks are giving us the opportunity to find solutions much faster than we ever thought possible. In the short-term, the unbridled development and utilization of these high-tech systems, and their eventual disposal, will undoubtedly add more e-waste to an ever-growing global pile. That’s why e-waste management legislation, public awareness campaigns, and recycling programs are so vital—because the situation isn’t going to improve on its own.
The best approach for humanity is to work toward a better understanding of the causes and impact of the three megatrends and continue on the path toward environmental stewardship, a circular economy, and sustainable practices in all aspects of our lives.
If you’d like to be a part of this future right now, contact us and learn how we can help you better manage your electronic asset disposal and data destruction.Tags: e-recycling, electronics recycling, sustainability