J.P. Pressley, EdTechMagazine.com, January 25, 2024
As higher education institutions and their students continue to prioritize sustainability, including over 330 U.S. colleges and universities publicly pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, a focus on recycling is clear — and it can’t be limited to cardboard. University sustainability initiatives also need to emphasize electronics recycling.
Between smartphones, laptops, monitors, tablets, printers and more, electronics are inescapable on campuses, and their limited lifecycles can make it easy for institutions to end up with a crowded device graveyard. Add in batteries and other miscellaneous tech used by students, faculty and staff, and it’s clear why universities might have a hard time mitigating electronic waste.
But there are ramifications to mishandling e-waste, device recycling and overall device management. And higher ed institutions are in a unique and vital position to chart a better course.
How Important Is Device Recycling and Managing E-Waste?
According to the World Health Organization, e-waste is the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world, increasing three times faster than the global population. With 50 million tons of e-waste generated each year — the equivalent of throwing out 1,000 laptops per second — this means trouble. Without proper treatment and disposal, e-waste can produce dangerous materials (dioxins, lead, mercury and others on WHO’s list of 10 chemicals of public health concern) that adversely affect the environment and its inhabitants.
For example, e-waste that ends up in landfills can release toxic compounds into the air and groundwater, posing risks to wildlife. People who are exposed to e-waste can experience premature birth, respiratory issues and other health concerns.
With just 20 percent of global e-waste officially reported as properly collected and recycled, according to the Geneva Environment Network, “the remaining 80% is undocumented, with much ending up buried under the ground for centuries.” This issue will only escalate as devices become more prolific, smaller and complex, it notes.