We were trawling Twitter recently and we stumbled upon this tweet about China’s recent bicycle bungle. Then, after bouncing over to an article touching the potential for the UK to implement a plastic tax to curb plastic waste, we decided to take a moment to reflect on the problem of waste. Namely, why do we have so darn much of it?
The question behind the problem
Asking something like “why is waste so wasteful?” seems overly simplistic at first, but in reality, it gets at the heart of the problem. You see, we come at waste with a faulty assumption. Namely, that waste is a natural and unavoidable ramification of consumption. And as consumers, we’re all guilty of turning a blind eye to the legacy our purchases leave after we're done with them.
But this has not always been the case. Communities used to use, reuse, and reuse again the things they purchased. In fact, the use-and-toss linear economy we currently find ourselves strangled by is a direct descendant of the industrial revolution. Put simply: more stuff = more waste.
Before this surge of products, communities would sew old, worn clothes into smaller and smaller garments before finally retiring the smallest fabric fragments into dust-rags. And fashion is just one example of how older generations made multiple uses of their purchases. During the Victorian era, even the dust from their houses was used as padding for shoes.
Waste doesn’t have to be necessary
To frame that statement a little better, we have to look at what most people largely consider to be waste. The best way to illustrate the confusion is with electronic devices: when you move on to the next model of phone, what happens to your old one? If you’re like most Americans, you simply toss it into the garbage. This is the waste that isn’t necessary—or, waste that isn’t really waste at all.
Like fabric in the Victorian era, electronic devices have far more to give than we realize. That phone, for example, is loaded with precious metals and elements that can be repurposed for newer electronics. e-Waste is a major problem when combined with our country’s upgrade addiction. Unfortunately, this issue isn’t just for consumers; businesses are equally as guilty of e-waste—if not more so.
Most businesses feel they have to waste their technology—the data on electronic devices is too sensitive to repurpose. Corporate consumers of IT are a major contributor to the US being one of the top e-waste producers in the world. And nearly all of that waste doesn’t have to be wasted. With the right data-erasure software, perfectly good technology that has been retired can be repurposed to second and even third use—and often for financial gain. But, many ITAD providers think shredding and forgetting the technology is the easier route.
Running circles around the waste problem
At Sage, we take extra measures to give the devices we manage the full value they still have. This starts with 100% data removal from the devices so they can be repurposed for a new home, school, or business. This extra step on our end has opened doors to several new income streams that most ITAD companies literally throw away. And with our GoodTogether program, we can donate devices to non-profits living on the fringe of the digital divide.
But even in trashing a device there is something to be gained. As stated earlier, the materials that make up our devices can be harvested and put back into next year’s model. If nothing else, using an e-Steward recycler prevents toxic substances from leaching into the environment. Indeed, there is next to nothing in electronic devices that should reach the landfill—ever.
We need to adopt the Victorian mindset of “leaving nothing to waste” toward our devices. Only then can we make a lasting impact on our environment, the climate, and even the price of our electronics in the future. If you think this approach has the scent of circular economy to it, well, you’re exactly right. And the best part of that fact is it makes the companies we work with more sustainable by proxy; paying huge dividends on the effort to extend each device’s use.