Scale 360 PH

What’s the problem in e-waste?

In this digital age, electronic products and digital technology have become increasingly accessible, enabled by rapid innovation and lowering costs. In spite of the many benefits of technology, enabling the transition to the 4th Industrial Revolution, increased electronic production and consumption begets the production of electronic and electrical waste (e-Waste). We are seeing approximately 50 million tons of e-Waste produced globally in a year. At the current rate, e-Waste is expected to more than double to 120 million tons annually by 2050, with most of the growth coming from developing countries as their middle class gains access to digital technology. In the Philippines, e-Waste is considered to be one of the fastest growing waste streams by the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau. Being among Southeast Asia’s top e-waste generators, Filipinos generate 3.9 kg of e-Waste per capita in a year.

The rapid growth of e-Waste produced globally coupled with a low formal recycling rate results in precious metals and toxic chemicals either being incinerated, ending up in landfills, or recycled through sub-standard methods. With only 20% of e-Waste being formally recycled, hundreds of toxic chemicals found in electronic products leak into our ecosystems and pose health hazards to the world’s poorest. While e-Waste only represents around 2% of solid waste streams, this results in 70% of hazardous waste that ends up in landfills. Furthermore, $62.5 billion worth of material value is going unrecovered – this is more than the GDP of most countries. As resource-intensive materials used in electronics get increasingly scarce, the improper handling and mismanagement of e-Waste is resulting in a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials.

While this has been a well-recognized issue for decades, the lack of management efforts and orchestrated initiatives results in an e-Waste problem that has only gotten worse. With e-Waste production surging, calls are still being made to ban the importation of electronic junk into the Philippines given the lack of e-Waste management infrastructure we have available in the country. Even though e-Waste recycling may have value in material recovery, most of it is being managed by the informal sector in the Philippines, thus causing severe health effects that can potentially affect even future generations. This presents a major opportunity for the country to upgrade and formalize its recycling industry to one that provides safe and decent working conditions.

While e-Waste only represents around 2% of solid waste streams, this results in 70% of hazardous waste that ends up in landfills.

While e-Waste only represents around 2% of solid waste streams, this results in 70% of hazardous waste that ends up in landfills.

How did Scale360˚ Philippines tackle the problem?

Addressing the gap between individual e-waste generation and local governments' treatment and disposal operations, Scale360° Philippines seeks to offer accessible e-waste disposal points and collaborate with accredited facilities for proper recycling, treatment, sorting, and disposal. By streamlining the e-waste drop-off, collection, segregation, and disposal process for consumers through a user-friendly directory, our goal is to significantly enhance the adoption of proper disposal practices among the general public. Scale360 Philippines has launched a pioneering project that unites different stakeholders, showcasing the foundations of a circular electronics system in the Philippines.

Why make e-waste circular?

With $62.5 billion worth of material value tied into the world’s e-Waste, this waste stream remains a largely untapped valuable resource. Nearly all components of an electronic product could be recycled, if designed for easy recyclability and if materials are fully recovered at end-of-life. E-Waste may contain precious metals (e.g. gold, copper, nickel) and rare materials (e.g. indium, palladium) that could be recovered and recycled. In fact, up to 7% of the world’s gold may be contained in our e-Waste. Designing electronic products for circularity could pave the way for urban mining, allowing us to extract valuable materials from waste streams with less energy and resources used. Urban mining could be two to ten times more energy efficient than mining virgin ore while recovering gold from electronic products produces 80% less CO2 emissions than mining it from the ground. Currently, rare earth minerals used in electronic products result in significant mining pollution and almost none of them are extracted from informal recycling. As materials used in electronic products continue to become scarcer, looking to our discarded electronic products for secondary raw materials could be economically viable in a circular economy.

Up to 7% of the world’s gold may be contained in our e-Waste.

Up to 7% of the world’s gold may be contained in our e-Waste.

How do we make it circular?

In order to harness the billions of dollars in material value locked into electronic products and maximize this throughout the full life cycle, a circular electronics system must be implemented at scale. The Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP), in collaboration with Accenture, has just recently developed an industry blueprint to enable coordinated action towards a circular electronics system. In this blueprint, a circular electronic product is defined to be:

1. Made from verified circular resources
2. Designed for use-phase optimization and material recovery
3. One with an optimized use phase and where materials are recovered at end of life

The CEP highlights that companies must rethink, redesign, and redevelop products for circularity with these three attributes in mind. Integrating circularity into existing linear products does not result in a truly circular product. Furthermore, the industry blueprint underscores the need to redesign the conditions and systems under which a product is offered and utilized. A truly circular product cannot exist outside of a circular system that ensures maximum material recovery.

The campaign for the right to repair has been continuously gaining traction and gets us a step closer towards establishing a circular electronics system. Directly addressing planned obsolescence where companies strategically slow down or make it harder to use older devices, the right to repair aims to make parts, tools, and repair information available to consumers for complex products. The European parliament continues to embrace the right-to-repair while the same campaign is getting strong support in the USA.