Consequence of a Throw-away Society
Updated: Sep 11, 2022
Sustainable Circular Economy wishes to thank "Future Tense" for the information that this blog has been written.
A Day in the Life of India’s E-Waste Workers
When it comes to considering actions within a circular economy, many things are laid bare. There is no hiding. There is no “out of sight, out of mind” as prevalent in a linear economy, which follows the “take-make-dispose” step-by-step plan.
Raw materials are collected, then transformed into products which are used until finally discarded as waste. We do not typically see what happens to what is thrown away, and this example of young, old, weak and strong in India taking apart old electronics are enduring while battling suffocating heat and hazardous chemicals with little protection.
Within a linear economy, there is no planning for reuse, recycling, re-purposing. Way far off, we may feel good that we put our throw-away products in a recycle bin, with little thought of what happens after.
The world dumped a record of 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, out of which just 17.4 percent was recycled, according to the 2020 Global E-waste Monitor. If we want to have a sustainable planet, maybe this is a good place to start.
The circular economy aims to maintain products, materials and resources in the product cycle for as long as possible, thereby minimizing waste. The more that is reused and the less discarded, the fewer raw materials will be extracted.
“However, the circular economy does not operate of itself. Especially, waste management—central to the circular economy— without proper planning, we get low paid workers handling our throw-away, to keep society running to attempt to maintain a sustainable environment.”
Without appropriate consideration and planning for the impacts on people, the planet and corporate profit, all central to the circular economy, we will continue to have low-paid workers in Dehli, working in horrid conditions, so that we can feel good about ourselves.
Trying to Eke Out a Living
Picture this: A person, coughs trying to clear the heavily polluted, particulate laden air from their lungs. A mass of hundreds of people moves out of the congested alleys of Seelampur, pulling carts and driving dump trucks loaded with discarded cellphones, computers, air conditioners, and almost any other electronic waste imaginable.
Seelampur is the India’s largest market dedicated to dismantling old tech gadgets. It is home to an estimated 50,000 men, women and children, all trying to eke out a subsistence living on the back of our discarded e-waste, including an “estimated 50,000 metric tons from the USA, each year.”
Men and women scramble. Children move through the nooks and corners of the market with plastic bags on their shoulders, collecting potentially useful scraps among the e-waste leftovers piled in front of doorways. They all hope to extract precious metals like gold, silver, and tin—or any other useful item.
It is dirty, dangerous, chemical-laden work, where they can make between $0.60 to $2.15 per day, on an extremely lucky day. Maybe enough to buy a Samosa.
How Do We Fix This?
Is there a solution? There has to be in the context of solutions to address global warming. We clearly cannot continue with the linear economy where we continue to abuse the use of resources, and there is no planning for reuse, recycling, and re-purposing.
We owe it to the planet and to the people, and companies need to make a profit if we are going to have a sustainable future. Interesting, First Nations typically think seven generations into the future; most others may think one or two generations if lucky.
Will We Meet Our Targets?
How we think about these challenges will frame how well we meet our targets. Coming out and slapping a mandated reduction on fertilizer use has not consideration for the impacts.
In Canada, we have 4.4 million people that face food insecurity every day and about 2,660 people die each year from malnutrition. What will be the impact of a reduction in fertilizer use of 30% in Canada by 2030?
On a straight-line basis in Canada, people facing food insecurity will increase to 5.3 million and deaths from malnutrition will increase to 3,460. On a world-wide basis the potential is an additional 1.2 billion people will be impacted, with a significant increase in deaths due to malnutrition.
Just like the squalidity of the Dehli electronic market, if we do not consider the world-wide impacts, we will not have sustainable solutions. There are no borders when it comes to actions for sustainability – something that looks good at home may be a disaster for the rest of the world. What we desperately require is a framework that provides a pathway to helping to do the world a world of good, and that is where the circular economy comes in.
At Sustainable Circular Economy our goal is to provide you with practical ideas on what you can do to address the worsening climate crisis. Our first step is to offer a free assessment of where you are at with efforts to address global warming.
Contact us today to allow us to help you on your journey to addressing global warming.
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 Forti V., Baldé C.P., Kuehr R., Bel G. The Global E-waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, flows and the circular economy potential. United Nations University (UNU)/United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) – co-hosted SCYCLE Programme, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Bonn/Geneva/Rotterdam.