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Revealing the hidden pandemic: the impact of COVID-19 on the e-waste crisis

The e-waste concern had reached crisis-point long before the coronavirus struck. But as the pandemic has made us more dependent on technology than ever before, how will this impact the already rising e-waste figures? And what can we do to stop our tech habit from harming our ecosystem further?

Electronic waste (e-waste) has been a global crisis long before the coronavirus struck. It’s one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world, and contains all manner of toxic, and hazardous materials that have serious, negative consequences on our health and the environment when not disposed of responsibly.

In 2014, it’s estimated that 44.4 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated. According to the UN’s Global E-Waste Monitor 2020, this figure rose by 21% in just 5 years, reaching 53.6 million in 2019. Sadly, just 17.4% was documented to be collected and correctly recycled. This demonstrates that collectively, the world is aiding a 4% rise in e-waste every year. Based on these findings, report predicts that by 2030, this will have further increased to nearly 75 million metric tonnes. This is an almost incomprehensible amount of harmful waste.

However, this 10-year projection does not consider the impacts of the ongoing pandemic.

A tech-centric society

The world is more connected than ever. Technology is emerging and maturing, faster than ever. Every day, more people are participating in the digital economy, and benefiting from the opportunities it creates, placing technology at the centre of nearly everything we do.

The consumption rate of electronic devices is rising every year; at an individual, household, and organisational level. At the same time, we are keeping these items for shorter timeframes than before, as disposable incomes are growing, technology is becoming more affordable, and people are choosing to replace rather than repair. Alongside urbanisation and industrialisation, these are key factors contributing to the rapid increase in e-waste. And then along came COVID-19.

Tech-centric becomes tech-reliant

When COVID-19 hit, remote working skyrocketed, and with it, so did the demand for tech. Social distancing and lockdown, meant everything, and everyone turned to technology.
Organisations rushed to deploy an abundance of new equipment to enable their employees to work from home. Schools sought after digital platforms and devices to facilitate distance learning. Families and friends turned to apps on their smart devices to stay connected to one another.

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