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Why Reuse is Better than Recycling?

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End-of-life ICT equipment forms part of an exponentially-growing pile of global e-waste–all those unwanted televisions, kettles, washing machines, stereos, light bulbs, and myriad other electronics that have or could enter the waste stream. Europeans alone generate some 20 kg of e-waste per year1 and according to the UN, 200 million computers and 550 million mobile phones reached the end of their life in 2008.2 Numerous attempts are under way to stem the rising e-waste tide. While the specifi cs of each country’s approach differ, in the main all aim to increase the separate collection of e-waste and its recovery by reuse and recycling. However, of these two options, recycling is often the default end-of-life response, regardless of whether the equipment is at the end of its useful life. For ICT equipment (as with other consumer goods), this is a wasted opportunity. As this first instalment in a series of special reports on ‘ICT and the Environment’ explains, reuse of functional equipment is the environmentally superior recovery option– and this is before we consider the additional socioeconomic benefits it reaps–and should be promoted as such in any waste management programme.

Key Findings

  • ICT production is energy and material intensive, and ICTs contain substances that are hazardous,
    valuable or both, so keeping them out of landfi ll makes clear sense.

  • High levels of product replacement and the concentration of energy intensity in the ICT production
    rather than use phase (80 and 20 percent, respectively) means that any activity that extends the
    life of ICTs–such as reuse–should be prioritised.

  • Reusing working computers is up to 20 times more energy effi cient than recycling them. Also, reuse
    has lower resource depletion costs than recycling. Thus, the waste hierarchy, which has reuse as
    more environmentally benefi cial than recycling, equally applies to unwanted ICTs as to other wastes.

  • While ICTs are often replaced long before the end of their productive lives, their reuse brings
    additional benefi ts, such as providing access to those unable to afford them new.

  • The superior performance of reuse has been recognised in EU legislation. The Waste Electrical and
    Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive contains language that prioritises reuse, though a lack of
    specific reuse targets means that recycling often becomes the practical reality. More needs to be
    done in the EU and elsewhere to reap the many benefits of reuse.

Extracted from ICTs and the Environment - SR1 - Reuse. Read more at http://www.interconnection.org/Computer-reuse-report.pdf

 

 

 

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