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Solving the e-waste problem


My colleague Stephen Rodgers went to Ghana a few months ago, as part of a project we are working on with the Nordic Development Fund, to help the country establish electronic waste (e-waste) recycling infrastructure. One of the things he told me, in addition to the deplorable and hazardous conditions to which children and others were exposed, was “wow, they retrieve the copper, but burn or discard the gold as they are unaware it is in the electronics or have no way of extracting it.”

New figures released by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and the StEP E-waste Academy (EWA) reveal that worldwide, the annual gold and silver deposits in high-technology goods, such as PCs, mobile phones and tablets, are worth over USD 21 billion; but that less than 15 percent of these precious metal “deposits” are recovered for reuse once they reach the end of their usable life and become e-waste. The rest is discarded, creating potential health and environmental hazards. In fact, the figures go on to show that “urban mining” deposits are 40 to 50 times richer than mined ore.

Ericsson offers free-of-charge product take-back to all customers worldwide, and we were the first in our industry to release a banned and restricted substances list (which we have recently updated to include references to conflict minerals, among others). However, these actions by companies alone will not be enough to solve the e-waste problem.

We need to work more actively together with governments to build local e-waste processing capacity. The StEP/GeSI program is an important step toward achieving this.

Written by Elaine Weidman-Grunewald

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald is Chief Sustainability and Public Affairs Officer at Ericsson. She joined the company in 1998, and she is responsible for a number of public-private partnerships that explore the use of Ericsson’s core technology to solve some of the world’s most compelling challenges and help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. She is a leading advocate of Technology for Good and represents Ericsson in a number of external fora including the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and the United Nations Global Compact.