Consumer lust for greener tech exacerbating global e-waste conundrum

Green, or sustainable technology, prioritises eco-friendliness, energy efficiency, recyclability, and the use of renewable resources.

Examples like solar cells for energy, electric vehicles, and lab-grown meat burgers showcase the use of electronics in these products. Yet, as these eco-friendly innovations replace older electronics, they add to the growing e-waste crisis.

The surge in green tech contributes significantly to e-waste, which poses severe health risks due to toxic elements like lead, mercury, and arsenic. Most of these wastes end up in Asia or Africa, impacting workers’ health, while citizens in affluent countries remain largely unaffected.

This growing e-waste conundrum raises crucial questions about responsibility and avoidability. A World Health Organisation report highlighted that an estimated 53.6 million tonnes of global e-waste was produced in 2019, with only a fraction of it properly recycled.

Consumer behaviour exacerbates this issue, as frequent smartphone and vehicle replacements persist. In the United Kingdom for instance, 28 per cent of phone users replace their devices every one to two years, while 40 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds do it within two years. Similarly, car turnover rates surpass population growth in various countries.

This trend extends beyond phones and cars, to various items like laptops, smartwatches, and appliances. Ultimately, the mounting e-waste conundrum prompts critical inquiries into responsibility and consumer behaviour.

Every year, the latest technological devices entering the market boast of ‘greener’ and ‘more advanced features’, rendering our current gadgets obsolete due to continually evolving systems and applications. This cycle forces frequent replacements, perpetuating in the e-waste dilemma worldwide.

Efficiency and energy conservation drive modern tech, soon to be turbocharged by the widespread integration of artificial intelligence (AI). But the race for efficiency outpaces our ability to manage it. When will ‘efficient enough’ suffice to curb e-waste?

Industrial policies prioritise productivity and profit over e-waste concerns, undermining the green revolution’s intent. Past technology predictions swiftly turned real, highlighting this pattern.

Consumer behaviour, spurred by affordable deals and promotions, fuels the constant upgrade culture. We’re conditioned to adopt fleeting ‘efficient’ technology without evaluating necessity.

This rush neglects the balance between irreversible risks and tech efficiency, blinding us to how new advancements truly serve humanity. Perhaps, a hidden agenda shrouds our pursuit of progress.

Our digital sprint risks eclipsing our green aspirations, unless we reconsider our purpose amidst this race.

Professor Dr Mohammad Tariqur Rahman is Associate Dean (Continuing Education) of Universiti Malaya’s (UM) Faculty of Dentistry and an associate member of UM’s Centre for Leadership and Professional Development (UM LEAD).

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.