When we think of waste, we (or at least I do) think of not finishing off your plate of food at dinner, or finishing off your plate of food and producing waste in a different form – sewage. However, even before food reaches you it’s wasted, with estimations that as much as 50% of food produced doesn’t even reach the stomach (IME, 2013); small advancements to reduce this figure would have a substantial effect on the standard of living for certain demographics.
One type of waste that doesn’t immediately spring to mind is technological waste. This was never an issue in the post-war era, where advancements in technology were infrequent and only available to the elite, and instead of a broken piece of equipment finding its way to a dump site in India (as does 97% of technological waste nowadays (Balde, Forti et. al, 2017)), it would be repaired and see continued use for the forthcoming years. That’s not the case now however, with advancements in technology coming at a much faster pace than ever before.
A popular example almost everyone can relate to is the iPhone. The lifecycle of a standard iPhone is roughly a year, and Apple have even been accused of planned obsolescence to encourage people to keep renewing their purchases with Apple on a regular basis. In addition to all the unwanted iPhones that accrue, production of these phones so rapidly means the depletion of rare elements crucial to their functioning (such as tantalum and indium). Other notable impacts on the environment include the release of carbon dioxide during production and the deposition of toxic waste into surrounding land and rivers, polluting whole ecosystems (Paul and Glaubitz, 2011).
In simple terms, stricter laws (policies won’t suffice, as companies that operate on a pure profit-maximisation basis more likely than not won’t adhere to them) and educating the public on the issues this kind of ‘innovation’ is causing is needed (Hanno, 2017). Some governments have already put laws in place in their respective countries banning the likes of lead and mercury from being used, but need to implement laws targeting technological waste, of which there are few at the moment. When laws do eventually get established, it will take a while before we see any noticeable effect, so in the meantime it becomes the consumer’s duty to make a difference, by voting against such massive amounts of waste with their wallets (or purses, I don’t discriminate) and not buying the new version of the iPhone or Playstation or other piece of technological equipment as soon as it’s released.
There is also a question of ethics in society here, and if part of the motivation for buying the latest device is a preferential form of egoism. In other words, are people buying the device because they believe it is an upgrade and will benefit them or because they want to fit in with their peers? Therefore, another potential solution is attempting to change society’s perspective on using traditionally ‘outdated’ equipment instead of upgrading.
If there’s one thing we really need to reduce the waste of, it’s our most limited resource-time. We’re quickly running out of it, meaning now’s the time to act.
(1) IME. (2013) Global food: Waste not, want not.
(2) Baldé, C.P., Forti V., Gray, V., Kuehr, R. &Stegmann,P. (2017) The Global E-waste Monitor – 2017, United Nations University (UNU), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
(3) Paul, J. & Glaubitz, A. (2011) Modern consumerism and the waste problem.
(4) Hanno. (2017) Green consumerism is still consumerism. Available at: https://wastelandrebel.com/en/green-consumerism-is-still-consumerism/. Accessed: 03/05/2018.
Picture used under licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/. No changes were made to the image.