Reading an article in Time Magazine recently about [wikipop]e-Waste[/wikipop] was a real eye opener and an insight into the next challenge of Green IT. The article focuses on India and the spiraling e-waste issue they are dealing with as their population gets more affluent and buys and discards more cellphones, computers, monitors, servers, iPods and other electronic devices.
A 2008 survey by the national government’s Central Pollution Control Board said India generated 146,800 tons of e-waste in 2005. According to the Environment Ministry, that figure is likely to reach 800,000 tons next year.
But that is not the only e-Waste that is stressing India’s ability to cope. They are one of the many nations that are taking in massive amounts of e-Waste that developed countries (like the US) are shipping overseas because of environmental regulations, anti-dumping requirements and the fact that we don’t want to deal with the hassle of effectively recycling or disposing of them. According to Time:
…a 2007 study by the Manufacturers’ Association of Information Technology and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation in India found that an additional 50,000 tons of e-waste is imported to India from developed countries every year, despite the nation’s bans on the dumping and disposal of foreign waste and on the importing of old computers and their accessories. According to activists, importers have long exploited a loophole in the bans that allows for imports of used electronics as donations.
So where is properly dealing with e-Waste on the corporate radar screen. Not very high unfortunately. GreenBiz.com recently reported on the topic of e-Waste and how businesses are reacting:
(We) spoke with Mark Vander Kooy, the VP of business development at e-waste management company CloudBlue, about trends in e-waste he’s hearing from the business world, and he said the drivers for responsible e-waste management are nowhere near as loud or as compelling as those for energy efficiency.
“To sum it up in one word: risk,” Vander Kooy said. “It’s the environmental and data risk you’re talking about. It’s the lifeblood of the company, the brand and the environmental reputation of the company.”
If your company is caught shipping e-waste overseas, where it is dismantled in hazardous and toxic ways, that can put a serious dent in your green cred — even if it’s not illegal to do so.
The next push towards effectively handling e-Waste is going to come in the form of peer pressure (similar to the way it has with corporations and carbon emissions due to the Carbon Disclosure Project). As companies start to be more ethical and effective at handling their e-Waste, and corporate RFPs start to contain language requiring details on e-Waste handling (or even certification via E-Stewards – a 3rd party e-Waste certification organization), businesses will start trumpeting their successes in the news and in their corporate sustainability reports.
The more that do this, the more will pay attention, the more RFPs will contain e-Waste language and the more quickly we can start to get the problem under control. If we don’t, we’re going to be looking at a lot of 50 ton piles of obsolete cell phones like the one the reference in the Time article.