The topic of recycling is not new, but as many nations become wealthier, environmental impact and sustainability come into focus, forcing us to find innovative ways to deal with waste. To help understand waste, we can classify it in two main categories: Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable.
Both of these categories can either be liquids or solids, for purposes of simplicity I will focus on the solids, as this is what we commonly interpret as waste.
Some examples of biodegradable waste include food, vegetation, and manure. On the other hand, non-biodegradables include plastics, metals, and glass.
Societies that become wealthier tend to produce more waste, and the type of waste shifts to include more non-biodegradable waste. A positive side of the effect of wealth on waste is the increase of collection rates, adequate waste disposal sites causing waste to be processed and treated in a sanitary form, as well as establishing robust recycling programs that bring the idea of sustainability closer.
A particular type of waste that sparks this blog is technological waste; with the rise of the ever changing and upgrading technology, it is common to find old printers, screens, cellphones and other electronics at home; if we take a look at businesses, then these obsolete components can be increased tenfold or more. I can’t deny I enjoy having the latest technology or gadget, and neither can businesses that are depending on the last innovations for a competitive advantage, but this means that the electronic predecessors we are replacing have to go somewhere. Unfortunately, because of a lack of education or interest, much of this electronic waste is ending up polluting landfills or other natural areas.
Today’s reality is that resources are limited, meaning we will not be able to sustain the demand for ever unless we find a way to replace this limited resources, with such a constraint in human progress, how is it that we are not paying more attention to taking the right steps forward and making sure the proper incentives are in place to cause a transformation on our habits?
Part of solving this problem is to start asking ourselves some basic questions like what measures can we take to make sure we start resolving this ever-growing issue? What sort of thinking is needed to make sure we take care of an increasing demand for electronic products in a sustainable fashion?
Some innovative minds are talking about the Circular Economy or Closed Loop Economy; this is an old practice that benefits from already created products to produce or enhance new ones, meaning that waste is reduced considerably while also generating economic sense. An equilibrium of maximizing profits and generating positive externalities for the environment and societies might be the key to answering the sustainability dilemma.
Today we extract, produce, use and dispose of many products, particularly in the technology side. These products have particular metals and other components that with the right technology could be salvaged at a fraction of the cost that it would require to mine them again. These metals and components could become economic incentives for manufacturing companies, generating as a result a rich new environment where communities would be enabled to reinvent themselves, innovate and create complementary businesses that focus on the maintaining & prolonging life aspects, reusing & redistributing elements, refurbishment & remanufacturing, and recycling components.
Just as an example, look at reutilization of batteries; in your life you have probably moved AA batteries from a camera or other fancy gadget to a remote control (especially if you lived through the 90’s), so why did you do that? Because you felt that exhausted AA batteries from the camera probably still had some energy to power the remote control or because you had no more AA batteries? Hopefully it was because of the first reason. Regardless, when you look at the new technology in batteries, we can apply the same principle of the remote control, these batteries should allow you to reuse them for other applications, for example reutilizing batteries from electric cars to home energy storage would be a good way of extending the batteries life for multiple years.
If we are able to find similar situations with other components and with more frequency, then we are already in the right track. If businesses have the right incentives to help avoid electronic products from becoming waste, auxiliary or complementary companies would have to follow suit, making a business ecosystem of circular manufacturing that can self-sustain and benefit us all.
We should all take part in helping sustainability, even if what you do it once in a while, it is still adding to the effort. So take some time to reflect and re-think some ideas that you might have regarding reutilizing your own technology waste, maybe you will stumble with your own brand new business.