The Woeful World Of Worldwide E-Waste

How large is the cache of discarded electronics in your home? They were once expensive and cherished items, but now they’re a question-mark for responsible disposal. I’m going to dig into this problem — which goes far beyond your collection of dead smartphones — as well as the issues of where this stuff ends up versus where it should end up. I’m even going to demystify the WEEE mark (that crossed out trashcan icon you’ve been noticing on your gadgets), talk about how much jumbo jets weigh, and touch on circular economies, in the pursuit of better understanding of the waste streams modern gadgets generate.

Our lives are encountering an increasing number of “how do I dispose of this [X]” moments, where X is piles of old batteries, LCDs, desktop towers, etc. This leads to relationship-testing piles of garbage potential in a garage or the bottom of a closet. Sometimes that old gear gets sold or donated. Sometimes there’s a handy e-waste campaign that swings through the neighborhood to scoop that pile up, and sometimes it eventually ends up in the trash wrapped in that dirty feeling that we did something wrong. We’ve all been there; it’s easy to discover that responsible disposal of our old electronics can be hard.

Fun fact: the average person who lives in the US generates 20 kg of e-waste annually (or about 44 freedom pounds). That’s not unique, in the UK it’s about 23 kg (that’s 23 in common kilograms), 24 kg for Denmark, and on and on. That’s quite a lot for an individual human, right? What makes up that much waste for one person? For that matter, what sorts of waste is tracked in the bogus sounding e-waste statistics you see bleated out in pleading Facebook posts? Unsurprisingly there are some common definitions. And the Very Serious People people at the World Economic Forum who bring you the definitions have some solutions to consider too.

We spend a lot of time figuring out how to build this stuff. Are we spending enough time planning for what to do with the gear once it falls out of favor? Let’s get to the bottom of this rubbish.

Putting the “E” in Waste

Let’s start at the top. What actually constitutes e-waste, and does it hyphenate? The World Economic Forum defines e-waste (yes, hyphenated) as “anything with a plug, electric cord or battery…that has reached the end of its life, as well as the components that make up these end-of-life products.” That’s pretty easy to apply, right? Did it have electrons traveling through it? Great! Then it will become e-waste at its point of death.

Before we go to far there is an interesting aside. The WEF clarifies that “E-waste is also called waste electrical or electronic equipment, or WEEE for short”. Ever noticed those funny crossed out trash cans on the bottom of your electronics, near the CE, FCC ID, and all that? That’s called a WEEE Mark and it’s there to remind you that the object is e-waste and shouldn’t be thrown away normally. If you’re building electronics one may need to be included. Incidentally writing this post was when I discovered my soldering iron doesn’t have one!

Why am I bothering you with this topic now? E-waste is hardly a new problem. Well the WEF put out a few (surprisingly readable for something billed as an “economic forum”) white papers about e-waste at the end of January and they have some pretty terrifying statistics. Like that one about every person in the US generating about 20 kg of e-waste annually.

Note that the distribution of waste/person is highly uneven, and while 20 kg is near the top the low end is very nearly 0kg/person/year. If we ask Wolfram Alpha to humanize that 20kg number for us we get a not-useful comparison to the weight of a gold bar (come on Wolfram, we’re Hackaday writers not bankers). Not useful. But the white paper has some totally bonkers comparisons that help.

E-Waste Volume in Terms of Airplanes

Based on 2016 figures, humanity generates about 44.7 millions tonnes of e-waste worldwide each year. It’s a little dated, but we can put it in terms of big airplanes. A 747-100 has a maximum takeoff weight of about 333,000kg. An A380’s zero fuel weight is about 361,000 kgs (ironically that comparison is a little dated too). Divide that out and we generate about 125,000 jumbo jets of e-waste. Per year.

I’d ask if you’ve ever seen an airport that crowded except one can’t possibly exist anywhere on the planet because it would literally cover Manhattan. If jets magically materialized at the end of a Heathrow runway and the airport operated continuously at full capacity (drone free), it would take 6 months of 24 hour service for them to take off. Now are you getting it? Does it seem big? I’d compare it to Eiffel towers but it’s frankly a less impressive metric.

Where is Stuff Going?

A man standing over burning electronics
Burning off plastic insulation from copper wiring in, Ghana. Image source: Jon Spaull, SciDevNet

Time for another exciting statistic! E-waste is only 2% of solid waste streams (trash, basically) but represents 70% of the total hazardous waste that makes it to a landfill. Of course not all, but some electronics are a bonanza of heavy metals and other things you don’t want leaching into your water table. But no one is going to find janitorial rolling dusty racks out of a data center and into a dumpster (I hope. You’re not doing that right?). There are recycling programs and private businesses established worldwide to consume this waste stream for either ecological reasons or financial ones.

It turns out that recycling rates are low, with only 20% of e-waste making it to appropriately controlled and tracked collection points. But that other 80% goes elsewhere. 4% is literally thrown in household trash, but 76% enters a gray area. The white paper literally says “fate unknown” which is fun but slightly deceptive. There is no official documentation of its demise but we know a lot of it ends up being recycled in what what the WEF calls “inferior conditions,” which is a euphemism for those smoking piles you see pictures of in Ghana. Conditions which lead to widespread birth defects and lasting environmental damage.

The World Economic Forum; being as named an economic body, has some analysis about why this is happening. There is value in the goods being destroyed, so why isn’t more being recaptured in a rigorous manner? Why do things end up in burning piles of garbage in the first place. Arguably burning it in a pile actually is an ingenious, entrepreneurial way of separating valuable material from non (in the photo above they are removing insulation from wire). But I think what the WEF means here is “why don’t people set up fancy, regulated factories and business to do it.”

The WEF would say that in this regard we have a linear economy. A linear economy is the simple kind, the classic waterfall that you think of when considering how anything is made. Necessary resources are mined, the product is manufactured, sold, and used until it’s end of life, then it’s disposed of. The process of recycling is like grabbing that linear flow and muscling it around until “disposed of” is coincident with “mine resources.” The output stream becomes the input stream. Obvious, but hard.

A Circular Value Chain

So is a circular economy possible? At this point it seems easy in description and hard in execution. The fact that we do recycle now means that we are actually fractionally there but in a true circle there are neither substantial “mine resources” inputs nor “then it turns to waste” outputs. Of course no system is perfect, so it betrays a lack of understanding to expect zero waste, but the the entire life cycle is designed for and resources are largely reused.

How? There are a variety of technological and process ways to move in this direction. We can extract and separate all the resources consumed in a product during recycling and reintroduce them into the value chain at the top. Products can be made modular so they can be upgraded and replaced. We can stop all technological development so that nothing is ever out of date again, etc, etc. “Circular economy” doesn’t mean perfect recycling and it doesn’t mean never upgrade. It can be constructed from any combination of means that ultimately reduce waste.

An Aside on Practical Repairability

I think it’s worth pulling back from the white paper here and using our critical thinking as Hackaday readers. The WEF’s breakdown of contributors to the e-waste tide is a reminder that the definition of e-waste is “things with plugs.” Obviously a phone is e-waste, but so is the electric kettle in the kitchen. Or the washer and dryer. These are substantially different types of devices with substantially different constituent parts. The phone will have more of those exotic rare earth metals in it’s semiconductors. There will be plastics in the body and midframe, maybe steel or magnesium too. And some gold and copper blended in for good measure. What about an electric kettle? It will have hard plastics too, and maybe some metals. But the electronics will be much, much more simple. Maybe there’s a control system that can drive the heating element to a temperature set point. But maybe it could just as easily be a wire to the wall, a switch, and a big slug of metal as a heating coil.

Turning back to ways to bring us closer to a circle it’s clear that some solutions are vastly better suited to these waste categories than others. Different forms of modular or serviceable phones have been tried again and again to middling results. Why? User serviceability usually implies modularity. If a normal user is going to conduct upgrades then the modules need to be easy to connect and large enough to handle without specialized tools. And once you get away from shooting your phones full of adhesives there are other trade offs. Glue is effectively infinitesimal and can be applied to any mating surface. Screws and snaps have volume and the material they pass through needs to have features designed into it to support them, both of which take space. And once you start taking space for fasteners, designers need to trade battery life or size or weight for those fasteners. Modules need to be connectorized, which also take size, especially because connectors that humans can easily use without damage are significantly larger than the board to board style mezzanine connectors and tiny U.FL jacks a manufacturer would typically use. And more connectorization impacts the routing of electrical lines, especially high speed, RF, etc connections between the different components of the device.

My dream home

Ultimately you weigh serviceability against design as another feature in the product requirements doc. Some would say this is worth it, and that real practitioners of Cradle to Cradle design would stridently make that argument to management and that consumers would respond to it. That might be true! I personally think it’s absolutely worth a try. But so far no one has proven any measurable amount of consumers are ready to put their money where their mouths are and buy those products. Very few have figured out how to make a business out of selling those devices.

Breaking Down the Big Stuff

But there are other paths here. Remember those kettles and washing machines? You don’t need to throw them in a burn pit to extract the resources. Someone can break them apart by hand and pull out the electronics. Better yet, unlike modern consumer electronics they are easy to repair! Why trash the entire kettle when you can turn a few screws and replace the electronics. Better than that, why throw it away and wait for someone farther down the value chain to replace components when it can be repaired in-situ? It never needs to be thrown away in the first place if the user or a repair person can come and fix it! Larger devices are (or were) naturally designed to be easy to service, and while the market may have moved towards adhesives and complex PCBAs with tiny parts I think there’s a huge opportunity here to be a beacon of modern ecologically friendly design. Certainly no one will care if their washer is 3 mm thicker to accommodate a sheet metal screw and boss.

One more point in support of prioritizing the lifecycle of big devices over little. What fraction of the e-waste stream do they represent? The WEF suggests that “small equipment” (kettles, irons, vacuums, etc), “large equipment” (refrigerators, washers and dryers, etc) and “temperature exchange equipment” (air conditioners, heaters, etc) make up a total of 75% of e-waste! I’m sure the proportions of heavy metals and more exotic resources isn’t evenly distributed among those categories, but repairing and reusing these categories would go a huge distance towards reducing those 125,000-jumbo-jets and improving the status quo.

What’s Left?

Again the WEF, as an economic organization, has one more reason why a circular economy is worth pursuing; lower costs. Surprising right? In a shocking turn of events for some resources it’s already less energy intensive to extract resources from the waste stream than from the ground. Literally, there is 100 times as much gold per ton of smartphones than in the same weight of gold ore; it’s just differently contained. The Surprising Statistics from the WEF white paper indicates there are about $62.5 billion of value locked up in e-waste annually, which compares favorably to most national GDPs.

In it’s entirely the circular economy includes more design concerns than this, plus clever business models that can make a difference. I may have personal qualms, but the WEF thinks tricks like “electronics as a service” might be a great way to go. The world of the circular economy is wide and deserves more coverage than the endmatter on a too-long article, so expect to see more here on Hackaday in the future. If you want more detail than you got here (or want to see sources) dig into the WEF report.

What about you? Have you considered reuse or reclamation in your designs? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to see that state of the hardware lifecycle in our community.

125 thoughts on “The Woeful World Of Worldwide E-Waste

      1. They do now! I mean sure that guy calling himself Herman Schultz sounded like a nut when he claimed to be “The Shocker” but after breaking out of prison using vibro-gauntlets he built from scrap they were inclined to believe him :P

        I think they also do that for anyone who uses the prison computers to read Girl Genius and are occasionally heard muttering “I’ll show them, I’ll show them all! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”.

    1. Yes, it could be considered that…
      But, many countries _require_ their prisoners to work, maybe not so much in the US, but working prisoners do have an opportunity to learn a trade, and knowing a trade reduces recidivism.

      1. A couple years ago, I witnessed a “Georgia Chain Gang” in action on the freeway, picking up trash.
        Not really “Learning a Trade”, eh?
        Many prisons today are profit centers, and operated by corporations.
        Like most topics here, “Follow The Money”..

        1. In my home in NY, we have a $52 assessment for trash pick up, and have to buy trash tags or get weighed into and out of the dump. We also have to deal with all of the actual dump action on our own.

          In my friends home in Tennessee, we pull into the dump, prison trustees swarm the truck, all the recycles wind up in the proper containers, the trash in the trash and we are on our way. No fees, no weighing etc. And I suspect that they get a much better sort on the recyclables.

          Back home the recyclables go for free, but you have to go through the dump twice if you wanna do them for free and almost nobody ever wants to do that, so they go out with the trash. A lot of people even trash redeemable bottles and cans.

          As one who has seen both systems, I have to say I like the one in Tennessee a lot better.

        2. “Kinda hard to end up in prison nowadays” ?? Really? The United States has, by far, the highest incarceration rate of any ‘civilized’ country, and that rate has been growing fast for over 20 years. “99.99999% are there because they truly deserve to be!” ?? Hardly! As a paralegal I can tell you the police, the state attorneys and the prosecutors, and the judges and the court system are just as corrupt as congress! Lots of fabricated evidence. Hiding exculpatory evidence. The more convictions they get, and the more prison time they hand out, the bigger their budget for the next year and the better chance for a promotion. And they get especially corrupt to cover up the fact that they may have arrested the wrong person because then they get sued. “Corrections” in the United States is a highly profitable business. The corrections industry is the 5th largest spender on lobbyists, which is why our prison population is ballooning. More laws, longer sentences, minimum mandatory sentences, lack of diversion programs, and removing the prison training and rehabilitation programs to encourage recidivism. The courtroom is NOT a fair playing field. The prosecution is given a lot of key advantages over the defense.
          Here in Duval county, Florida, people of color are often arrested for “DWB” (Driving While Black) when driving thru nice white neighborhoods. They are arrested on the premise that their license is suspended or revoked, but it really isn’t. They don’t get convicted, but they do spend the night in jail which is expensive and very stressful. And then people like you assume they are guilty criminals even though the charges are dropped. It causes them to miss time from work and potentially get fired from their jobs.
          OK, I realize this is a hacking forum. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

      2. It _is_ slave labor.

        For the experience of learning a “trade,” others are making hand over fist. And it only has a noteworthy reduction in recidivism if the trade they are learning is marketable on the outside of the prison walls.

        1. It’s not slavery because they are not forced into it. At some point they made a choice in life that put them there! People don’t go to prison in the US for Jay walking or because they have an overdue book from the library! It’s really knida hard to wind up in prison nowadays. Of course you can always find rare edge cases why someone may have been unjustly incarcerated, bust the vast majority, about 99.99999% are there because they truly deserve to be! And there are quite a few who aren’t there but should be!

        2. well for just £5 a month you could sponsor your prisoner. you will receive regular updates on his or her progress with pictures. If you are really lucky at the end of their ‘stay’ at the prison they will visit you in your our how to “personally thank you” in a way only they know how!?

    2. Not speaking to the Texas program, but I know the inmate program that my company runs pays a little higher than state minimum wage. The inmates make less than what skilled labor gets paid, but more than the state requires for anyone employed.

      The program is voluntary, but highly desired. It gets the inmates out of prison, and they earn some money to pay for their incarceration, and pay back their restitution.

  1. Here in Los Angeles, e-waste recycle operations are on every corner it seems. Much of the waste is repurposed as a “Refurb” product. The license plate on one owners vehicle reads GO 4 AU so I’m guessing gold recovery is good.
    I see tons of e-waste torn apart and in the pallet containers awaiting the gold treatment.
    It’s true only so much can be done.when you think of the world wide distribution of e-stuff.
    As a personal note, I try to do my part by reselling high end “business class” workstations.
    Truth is, the high end towers from quality OEMs perform quite nicely with a fresh load of the OS.
    When a dual Xeon HP Z800 with 2 gig video card and 24 gig ram is available for under $200 US, I buy it.
    Yore mileage may vary..

    1. You can get a dual 6 core HP Prolient (G6+)server with 64G or more of RAM and a couple HD’s for $150 to $300. They use a bit of power, but are a heck of a deal.

      Now, if they just made it easier to take printers apart and get those lovely ground steel 5, 8, and 10mm rods.

      1. Yes, but the 19 inch racks crowd out the cubicle.
        My customer base is Video Editors, CAD design engineers. and heavy calc operators.
        So I stick with the tower workstations, like HP Z820, Z800, Z600, Z400….

  2. I can only dream here, of a scanning atomic disintegrator with a compound collection head that collects and dispenses the malleable elements into spools, and the more crystalline elements and gasses into some stable medium, or molecular compound from which they can be easily extracted later.
    While attempting to focus on this particular subject, SQURREL!!! I’m suddenly aware of the environmental implications of disintegrating the attacking enemy on board ones spacecraft as seen in some popular sci-fi series. Really seems kind of unhealthy now, doesn’t it?

    1. Sounds kind of like the gem extractor that made a prison inmate into a giant crystal monster in that episode of Swat Kats or a Slaver Digging Tool from Larry Niven’s books with extra features.

        1. Damn this comment is almost 4 years old but Swat Catz brought back some memories and that I’m getting old lol. But hey it’s a good example they did build most of their stuff from junkyard parts.
          I stumbled upon this site just recently, I’m very stubborn when it comes to giving up on broken or old electronics or machines. If it cant be repaired it can always be recreated into something else useful……my current “projects” are a hundred or more CCTV cameras, dvrs and alarm systems. Besides the obvious uses for security I’ve turned some into skywatchers and next I have an old well that’s maybe 300 feet deep that I’m going to throw some camera down and see what happens. Plus there’s no better feeling than bringing something back to life but in reality most older tech with larger sturdier components are much more reliable. I literally dug an old 80s boombox out of the ground that’s been there for probably 3 years or longer and after pouring the water out of it it worked….lol the worst thing my family hates to hear from me but also is grateful for is ” I can fix that”….. but nevertheless when you grow up with dirt poor you learn to make do with what you got and I’m grateful for that every day.

  3. Maybe we wouldn’t have so much e-waste if serviceability and reparability were a legal requirement for the wear and tear parts in common electronic devices that are known to have a questionable lifetime outside of warranty.
    Maybe also make being upgradeable a law for things where only a small part tends to hold it back in the long run, but it is well known better parts were too expensive at the point of manufacture.

    1. As soon as a class of devices is no longer evolving/developing, then it makes sense to make it repairable. The computers of 15 years ago were repairable, in the sens that power supplies, motherboards, etc, are replaceable.
      But everything has developed to where you want the performance of the last 5-10 years, not of the old stuff – cell phones have changed much more and faster. laser printers – the good ones were repairable – but would you want an old one now? Why? Monitors – do you really want a 15 year old monitor, even in new condition?
      On and on…
      On the other hand, Washer, dryers – the new stuff may be more ‘efficient’ but do you save enough water and power to pay for the fancy crap that breaks and kills the unit?

  4. The WEEE mark has failed. “Yeah that will stop ’em!” – said bureaucrats everywhere. Just another labeling cost born by the maker that has ZERO real world impact. Stop it. E-waste is a big deal. Dumb labels do nothing.

  5. If the companies were made legally responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products this would not be such a problem.
    But all to often we commericalise profit and we socialise debt, because profit rulez!
    It should not in all fairness be the responsibility of government agencies to protect the environment and deal with waste, recycling and disposal.
    You dont crap in your own back garden and expect someone else to clean it up – but this is exactly what EVERY company does. Some to such massive degrees that the US have superfund environmental disaster sites. Many of them.
    Why are the companies responsible for those sites not putitng all future profit into them until they are fixed? why is the tax paying baling them out ?

    If companies bore the burden of responsibility for the end to end life of a product, manufacturing and their actions, how fast you would see the products being biodegrablable, reuseable, low temp melting plastic, made from things like wood and metal over plastic.
    Modular, upgradable, universal parts – like swapping 18850 cells as if they are AA’s. Swapping in a new pump to your AC, standardisation on various car parts. Buildign things to last, not acceptable MTBF / warranty periods.
    The money that Apple (for example) has tied up in cash could be poured into such research, if only they were forced to do it, because right now it’s simply not a cost which they need to find a solution for.
    They and everyone else can keep polluting with no consequences for their actions.

    Social responsibility is an anathema to a “for profit” organisation.
    Social pressure alone will do nothing but produce sound bytes and a few likes on facebook and twitter.
    To pick on Starbucks banning straws and charging for cups they cannot recycle; a piss in the ocean compared with all the packaging waste they produce daily, but people think they are doing something about the environment !!

    If any of these global tinpot organisations like the WEF and UN wants to seriously do something to help the planet, rather than wasting time writing “white papers” and no doubt printing 100’s of copies to hand out to people at global conferences everyone got to via airplanes…
    Hit the companies where it hurts and force them to do the clean up for the decades of pollution they have been geting away with in the name of profit.

    Politicans need to step beyond the bribes they get under guise of lobbying and deal with these companies. They are not people, they are organisations, sole interest to make money above all else. They are parasites which need to be controlled.

    End to end ownership of product. Hell companies want to rent us everything anyway…

    Profit is no good when we are all dead and dying.
    But sadly that is the only thing we care about.

    The world needs to fundamentally change from focus on ever increasing growth to a model of stability.
    I have no ideas other than to say it must be painful for a whole hell of a lot of us (curtailing the illusion of freedom), else there wont be many more generations to follow unless someone invents fusion and matter transmutation in the next 50 years.

    1. So many thoughts on this post..
      True, government should not be in charge of recycling. Here in California, can and bottle recycling is the largest screw up ever. Out of state cans an bottles trucked in for free monies. Arrrggghhh. Never forget, any government operation created NEVER gets disbanded. It’s like ebola, spreading it’s cancer everywhere.
      It’s true companies want to rent, not sell product. Apple glues laptop parts in, so they are not repairable.
      John Deere claims they own the software that runs the tractor, and the “owner” does not have permission to fix it.
      Bribes are the only reason to enter politics. Why would they change anything?
      Toxic liquids in the water table? Not today, not here. As a reminder to all the enviro-nazis, landfills here in California are lined with plastic, so nothing seeps into the water table. Remember plastic? Degrades in 10,000 years.
      A larger issue is the larger populations in third world countries. We have zero control/influence over there so don’t expect any solutions for the next thousand years.
      I have a 75 gallon recycle bin provide by the city. I fill it every week. The salvage pickers come by by and steal the aluminum cans. Even if they did not, the city dumps most of the recycle in the landfill.Why? Well China stopped taking our cast offs..
      /end rant

      1. I agree with you that asking centralized big government to solve problems is a very bad idea, history bears evidence to this in almost all cases. However there are times when laws that work are needed as well as government oversight that enforces those laws. Banning planned obsolescence is one case where this applies. I am sick and tired of having to throw away otherwise perfectly usable products because the battery inside is bad, and there is no way to affordably service it. I don’t care if my products are a bit larger, less fashionable, and more expensive up-front provided they are user serviceable at a basic level – like replacing a bad battery or cracked display.

      1. Yes, but a company can hire engineers and whatnot to come up with a solution. Is the average consumer going to do that? Even if consumers agree to pay taxes for the government to try and solve the problem, the problem is better addressed when you start trying to solve it at the source.

  6. The biggest problem is the cost of repair. If your refrigerator or washing machine is more than four years old it is questionable whether you should have it repaired. If we know things will not be repaired then why go through the expense of making them repairable?

    1. Lower taxes on repair work hours to make it profitable again and cheaper for the customers. Also if there would be parts and documentation available repairing could be done more efficiently (or at all). Increasing the warranty period would force companies to stop producing cheap crap, and/or make devices more easily repairable. Both good.
      It’s not as if there are no ways…

      1. I can’t see that happening. The government is just as guilty of wanting as much tax revenue as anyone else. They won’t make anything on sales taxes if people kept fixing their existing things.

        I do wish that companies were forced to have documentation and have replacement parts. I had a Worx branded electric chainsaw that died after 2-3 months. The plastic gear completed shredded itself. Despite being a model that was less than a year old, they had already stopped making replacement parts for it. I’ll refuse to buy another Worx branded product ever again, because this totally soured me on the brand. I’m still planning on modelling/printing/casting a new gear for it, rather than tossing the whole thing. What rubs me the wrong way even more is that cheaper brands have replacement parts readily available.

        You know, the whole “don’t get mad, get even” thing. I plan on putting the gear on thingiverse when I get it working, just in case anyone else runs into the same problem.

        1. When I bought an electric chainsaw at Horror Fraught, I asked if a replacement chain was available.
          The cashier suggested I buy the replacement policy for $3 and then I could replace the entire saw when the chain gets dull.

    2. Yep, totally agree. One of the WEF’s observations was that in some cases of should actually be easier (lower energy or cost) to repair or recycle than to replace with equivalent resources. But I suspect those tasks are all done by different parties who don’t have much overlap… Then you have to start factoring in logistics and everything and it gets messy

    3. Because things are too cheap

      Today’s society says you can have everything you want
      Yesterday’s society said you work hard and earn it
      And things were expensive

      Is it progress that you can buy an entire kitchen full of white goods for under $1000 ?
      Or is it a sign that the total cost of those products is less than the environmental cost.

      If a fridge can be had for $150, what is the cost to the environment of disposing of that fridge?
      How much to haul it away, break it down, process it, turn the reclcyables back into ingots etc.
      The electric and water costs involved.
      Do a total cost analysis.

      Now charge the company that cost. They add it to the price of the goods and let’s just say it’s not $300
      Repairs looking mighty more attrative now aren’t they

      Next lets deal with the cost of spares.
      Many years ago a mate lost in transit a speedo cluster.
      He claimed on insurance, but the manufacturer couldn’t quote a single unit cost
      They made it from the cost of spares prices.
      The cost for a cluster – $6000

      Again you canot trust companies to price sapres correctly. Why is there a huge market in coipy cat spares for cars as an example?
      There should be a maximum profit margin applied.

      These costs of doing business will be passed on to the end user.
      Cost go up. People buy less. Profit goes down.
      We probably enter recession.

      We need to deal with that, as the alternative is far worse.
      Constant financial growth is simply not working. It cannot It’s a pyramid scheme by definition.
      Companies are ultimately where we need to be looking at they are in control/blame

    4. I think you are way out of line on the repair of the washing machine. The machine I use has been used by a family of four since 1996. I’ve replaced the water pump once in about 2010 (~$40), and the transmission drive dogs twice. Once in 2014 and once a few weeks ago for under $20. The new dogs have a change in manufacturing that addresses the failure mode.

      It’s a really simple machine. To replace the transmission drive, you disconnect the water, take out two screws to take the cabinet off. Lay it on it’s back, take off two hoses, pop off two spring clips, switch the dogs, reverse. It takes a pair of pliers and two screwdrivers and half an hour (not including getting the water and wash out of the machine).

      I’ve put about 3 pounds of parts into the machine in 23 years, versus “recycling” two full machines.

      Although you may be correct about the repairs if it were a 2015 machine.

      1. In Europe we have somewaht pointless energy efficient logos on everything.
        I’d rather we categorise products by the ease of repair.
        On a scale where 5 = send back to factory and 1 = can be done by a total novice watching a repair video on youtube
        5 yr warranty in EU. So manufacturers should keep spares for 10yrs.

        Now they can get away with giving you new for old.
        So not making things last any longer, just factoring failure cost into purchase price.

    5. The science of refrigeration really hasn’t changed all that much in 4 years.

      heck, my fridge that is getting around 10 years now is still ticking, and draws about the same amount of current as the one it replaced, so why replace things we don’t need to?

      1. Because the PTC starter dies
        A component fitted in the first instance to reduce cost.

        Which stops many devices starting on inverters.
        They claim a fridge takes 150W, except fail to mention the 1500w it needs at startup to mange the PTC.

        It’s right at the back, it’s often potted to make replacement difficult
        It’s hard to find someone with the skills who will charge a resaonble amount to come out and test then repair it.

        A new one on finance is just easier for most people. And new and shiney

        1. I just had to look up a “PTC starter ” to find out if it’s the same as the positive temperature coefficient resistor that I used for inrush current limiting in various electronic systems. Yup. It’s not a “relay” like the appliance techs call it. It is a simple slug of ceramic semiconductor which is a low resistance when cold. It lets current go through the start winding, then heats up and changes (and stays) at a high resistance so that much less start winding current flows. Since it stays at a warm temperature (200 degrees) it’s going to have some stress on it. But it has better reliability than a mechanical relay to start the motor. It only needs to run for a few seconds until the motor gets started, so it doesn’t take much energy. 1500 watts sounds like a lot of startup power, though.

    6. The biggest problem is when manufacture design for planned obsolescence through the use the of glue, non standard fasteners, and DRM to discourage user and third party repairs.
      As well as limited the availability and high cost of tools to perform some of the needed repairs..
      ODB-II for example is supposed to be a universal protocol but each manufacture has their own little additions and you need a high end tool to perform things like relearn a crank sensor or retract an electric parking brake.

    7. My washer and dryer are a quarter century old. I’ve had a handful of repairs done over time, for a total cost of less than half the replacement cost of one of them.
      So, no, you are just wrong, Rex. Repairability is good.

  7. Okay, now I’m officially confused, since when is volume measured in jumbojets?!?!
    What does 125,000 jumbo jets of e-waste per year exactly mean? Why isn’t this stated in (the widely used volume reference) “Olympic swimming” pools. I tried to convert 125.000 Jumbojets to Olympic swimming pools but google didn’t compute.

      1. No, no, no. Your thinking wrong. If you REALLY want to make a perceptual impact where it counts, you must first convert to cubic dollars, then amortize. Cost of production vs EOL total profit margin you will find vastly different between Jumbo jets, bananas, pools. And the Jumbo jets will have a significant disposal cost as well, although arguably the do constitute a sizeable recycling value. Bananas pretty much recycle themselves. Unless you leave them laying around where they can increase insurance premiums. Olympic swimming pools do have one thing going for them though, they have a significant real estate value. And, in a world where real estate moguls attain political power, it’s possible to shuffle real estate into all kinds of obfuscated benefits. Now we could be really enterprising and convert all the e-waste (without actually converting it) into a huge, ever embiggening border wall. 5 Billion saved!! Providing, of course, the kickbacks from the original plan arrive in their expected pockets.

  8. Well, if anything with power counts as e-waste, including cars, refrigerators, camping houses, airplanes and trans-oceanic cargo ships, then the 20kg per capita result seems actually pretty low.

    1. Cars and such are either resealable or recyclable. The vast majority of a car does not go into the trash stream. If you follow CL you may notice a trend. If you see sub $300 cars for parts or repair, you can tell scrap prices are low. Current scrap prices pretty much dictate what a more or less EOL car will be worth. Hopefully the place that scraps the car will be a junkyard and not a scrapyard. If the car is put into a junkyard an amazing amount of it’s pieces will find new life in other cars. As one who semi frequents junkyards I always find it interesting when a new car is brought out, watching it slowly but surely get picked away at, before it is finally scrapped and turned into a new car.. As one who owns old cars I like to see them at junkyards as I don’t put one down easily. I always hear about how dirty and inefficient older cars are, but it is never mentioned how dirty or efficient it is making a new car. I get the feeling keeping my old beasts going it actually better than needlessly junking it for a new one that has to be manufactured.

      Most e waste is worth something as scrap. My local yard generally gives a nickle a pound for it, they call it shred. More seasoned scrappers will know what is inside of common things and know if it is worth gutting for metals or selling as shred or mixed metal. Scrapyards have rates for motors, generators and alternators, and car radiators and batteries. You may do better beating the copper out of an old motor for example, but that is a lot of work.

      I have a rather large pile of both car and ups batteries that I am waiting for the right price point on. Not much different than investing in gold except people give me the batteries.

      I have a lot of toys that their previous owners just outgrew. There is a of ewaste out there that is not even waste. Just stuff folks got and got tired of or did not have room for, or did not want to move…

      And as far as a lot of stuff goes, some of it is serviceable, but the folks who sell it want no part of that. Look at the number of big screen tv’s that get junked for need of a few new caps. On the flip side though, often times there is no documentation etc. And when you get into mechanical things like washers, often time the granularity for a fix is pretty coarse. Any PCB is a unit, no component level repair, no schematics etc. If you are lucky you may be able to intuit a repair but if it turns out to be a dead “big chip” for example, the $150 board is dead for a $10 chip but you can not get the chip. In one of our washers the entire drum wants to be replaced because of a bad bearing. And while the bearing was going bad, it was kind enough to take out two $150 PCB’s. Or I am pretty sure that is what took them out, in retrospect. Doing some current sensing and having an idiot light like on a car would have helped but driven the cost up. I don’t think they really care if you keep the old or buy new as the replacement piece prices are so high. What they don’t want you doing is finding another one that has a different issue and your taking two old ones and making one work. Sadly that does not work out so well a lot of the time because they all have the same flaws so the chances are really good the next one will suffer the same issue as the first one. A good case in point is to look at any of the foam surrounded speakers from the 60’s and 70’s. NONE of the surrounds will be intact. It is not a matter of how you played them or how you stored them (unless perhaps hermetically sealed in nitrogen or something..). They all has the same weakness.

      Some countries used to take our used plastic and our e waste and they paid little for them, and did their best to recycle them, but sadly our current political situation has pretty much put an end to that. Soon we will be up to our ears in our own opulence.

        1. I wonder how much of that was insurance related. You can strip a lot of high $$ stuff out of a car and not take a lot of weight out of it. I was in for right about $100 for a hood, a grill, and a headlight after turning a deer into sausage with my car. In retrospect, that is not the most efficient way to make deer sausage. I doubt I took $10 in weight out of the car, and I suspect the car might have scrapped out at $200. One run I was in for $100 and that was a multi stick (turn signal, wipers, headlights, and cruse), the drivers side window and lock and mirror controller, and a new cruse servo. I took even less weight out on that one. If you look at the price lists a parts car if it is remotely popular is a friggin gold mine. But you have to have space to put them in and I suspect insurance. But still I can see cars that have had a few grand worth of stuff picked off of them and I would figure they still get > $100 for whats left when they crunch it. All I can think of is insurance and or storage space in city. My junkyard is out in the country.

          As an aside, I would like to throttle the person who put the window controls in the low spot so they collect water if the door or window is open and fail after about two doses of that. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Probabley the same dope who made the tail lights on my vette slant inwards so water collects in them.

        1. My bedroom TV was one a relative was thowing out and I just went and bought a parts kit off ebay that replaced two caps,a fuse,two power resistors, and a transistor that tend to all die together due to a design flaw.

        2. Bin called to operate on dozens of “big screen” tv’s they are not failing from a cap or 3 , they are failing from the dust the 3 or so fans SUCK into these machines to cool them, do I need to say any more ??

      1. They need to have the contained images flipped then also. This is a common trickery and 1 reason that pie charts are not a good visualization tool (or a good one if your intention is to distract or deceive).

  9. I don’t need or even want my cellphone to be so damn thin. Actually I would prefer it to be a bit more rugedized and take up more space with a bigger (and user-replacable) battery.

  10. I’ve been to small towns where aluminum cans are being thrown in the garbage. There is no recycling pick-up so it’s up to individuals to find recycling programs and transport their materials themselves. Some do, but many don’t. The trashing of aluminum drives me crazy since it consumes less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to smelt it from bauxite in the first place. But of course other recyclable materials are heading to the landfill as well in these cases.

  11. I’m just narked that the e-waste collection sites near me actively discourage pulling anything out of the bin. Sometimes one sees such treasures and must pass them by. [gnashes teeth] I also hate the morality lectures on how I am a bad person for “stealing” out of the recycling bin. Particularly since 90% of what I would take would go back in bin eventually anyway. Oh well. [sighs]

    1. Our local transfer station is like that. No picking. WTF. It should be illegal for them to use the three arrow symbol there because they actively discourage reusing. Even sadder is we got hit with the assessment because after they built the new transfer station, they were not meeting their income targets because so many people were recycling. Letting people pick would be an easy way to cut down on at least some of the recycles.

  12. Whatever happened to Plasma gassification technology for the recycling of materials? For the items that are hazardous it seemed to do a nice job of taking the bite out of it.

    Personally I think that as part of the “repay society” idea non-violent offenders should spend their time (weekends for some, every day for others depending on sentence) throwing on some gloves, coveralls and maybe a mask and taking landfills apart, removing recyclable materials, and incinerating what can’t be recycled. E-waste isn’t the whole story.

    I strip down things I throw out to remove recyclable materials, only doing the e-waste maneuver on things that can’t be recycled. I end up with usable parts while doing it.

  13. one of my favorite passtimes is salvaging acrylic sheets from dead lcd screens (the ones that either aren’t worth repairing or where repair had failed). i got a whole stack of the stuff in my closet for future projects. i took one apart a few days ago looking for caps i could use in another, bigger, nicer, newer, more expensive display that was giving me crap with its backlight driver. the screen i took apart was an old screen with a lot of dead pixels.

    it had the usual warnings contains mercury, lead, etc. though if you take it apart you get some scrap metal, some abs plastic, a couple small boards and 2 pairs of mini florescent tubes which contains the bulk of the mercury. so much of the waste that ends up in the bin is actually casement and the total volume of ewaste could be reduced with a proper teardown and sorting of components. boards go in one box (reserved for salvage), mercury containing tubes go in the hazmat bin, and everything else goes in the dumpster.

    1. You are a superstar for repairing. Repair is not economically viable these days because buying a new one is cheaper (and shinier!) than the repair. Repairing at greater cost is a passion option.

      1. That always depend on the object/place/city/country. Many times it is worth repairing, either because the object is valuable or cherished, or because another one cost much more than the repair price.

  14. I have an old Bosch dishwasher and the old mechanical programmer is broken. I asked Bosch for a new one and was prepared to pay more than the cost of a new dishwasher just for the programmer (don’t have to plumb in a new unit that way), but they said “We don’t do that”. Now I turn the dial by hand. Some consumers really care about e-waste and manufacturers should take note.

    1. I have one too. Maybe the same model.
      The AC motor was dead. I couldn’t find a replacement.
      After much searching and comparing part numbers agaisnt other mech timer parts I found a sync motor with the same speed and footprint.
      It was $5 for the entire mech timer shipped

      I was a month away from converting the damn thing to digital with an ESP and relays.
      The workshop manual has the full pinout and timings for each movement of the mech control

      That’s the level of support we should be getting
      But those manuals are not openly shared. It’s only thanks to legally questionable websites that we are able to get our hands on them
      repair manuals should be downloadable for free just like operation manuals for those that want them,

  15. For several years now I have been collecting all sorts of e-waste from family, friends, and clients. Putting it in a big pile in my back yard. When the pile got big enough, I would fill the pickup truck and drive 35 miles each way to the Waste Management landfill which I *thought* had an e-cycling program. I just recently came to find out that all they do is remove the batteries and cold-cathode backlight tubes *if* they aren’t too difficult to extract, and everything else goes into the landfill.
    Boy was I pissed when I found that out.
    The e-cycling program in the next county won’t take my stuff cause I’m not from their county. A couple of private e-cyclers I have found are really really picky about what they will take.
    Well, at least I tried.

  16. In Monroe County NY, we have ecoPark to take used TVs, fridgerators, air conditioners, nicad and lithium batteries. For circuit boards and electronic parts we use Sun King in Brockport NY. They collect at local Goodwill locations. Aluminum and tin are easily recycled at a local metal scrap yard. So are used Lead Acid Batteries. If it works I give it away for $5 or $10 using Craigslist. Recycling takes a little effort, but its easy to do and the internet makes finding resources such as these easy in your local area. Note I do not recycle hard drives. We use a usb kit to connect to each drive and erase its contents, then tear it down and recycle the Aluminum while we physically destroy the disk. If you’re not up to that I believe that Sun King will destroy the disk contents.

    1. I also keep a few circuit boards on hand. I’ve used connectors to connect to old wall warts. Those old power supplies never get thrown away as you never know when or where you might need one. I’ve used old capacitors and rectifier diodes to redo a circuit board on a lift chair. Its fun when you can repair someone’s 25 year old chair that they need without spending any money on parts. When my pile of PCBs gets too large it too goes to Sun King.

  17. Ha, Also why the heck is there not a firmware patch for phones known to have flaky eMMC chips?
    My Note 4 had this “feature” after 3 years, it was a crap shoot whether the display was going to burn out first but the chip finally died on me.
    Also annoying: everything is glued to everything else and the breaking strain for the $$$ OLED panel is 1/5 that of the glue even with temperature.
    Only good thing is that panels are easy enough to get and can be fixed if you have the right CFW to work around screen burn.

  18. My best advice to anyone, NEVER ever call the dealer you bought your appliance…. e.g, most all fridges have a defroster element that burns out, cost 20$. freezer stays cold, food don’t. Dealer service dude say’s “IT OUT OF FREON AND IS NOT WORTH FIXING” these dudes are either idiots or trained liars

    1. I suspect it depends a lot how the refrigerant is routed – if it goes through a bonded panel assembly and you can’t tell where the miserable thing is leaking and it might be something that can’t be separated from the chassis of the refrigerator – you’re all screwed. Yeah, if it is an exposed item, it should be reparable. Some of the techs are probably capable people who have already been burned trying to fix stuff that was not designed to be repairable.

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