Closing the persistent gap between the benefits of electronic devices and their toxic waste requires innovations in natural resource recovery, regulatory policies and consumer participation, according to Oladele Ogunseitan, UC Presidential Chair and UCI professor of population health and disease prevention. In an article recently published online in the journal One Earth, he discusses how the sustainability challenges of pollution and the mining of raw minerals using child labor present opportunities to create a circular economy in which e-waste can be recycled into materials to produce new, less toxic devices. “E-waste is spiraling out of control, with 53.6 megatonnes generated in 2019, and is projected to more than double to 110 Mt by 2050,” Ogunseitan says. He suggests five ways of “bending the curve” toward a circular economy:
- Recover end-of-useful-life electronic devices, particularly mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers
- Develop cost-effective electronic product disassembly automation tools
- Salvage material resources, especially cobalt, from discarded devices
- Harmonize and strengthen international regulatory policies
- Educate the public about e-waste
“Creating a sustainable circular economy of electronic products and ending e-waste is possible through strategic implementation and coordination of these solutions,” Ogunseitan says.