How your old phone is fuelling the climate change crisis

Increasingly SMEs are using innovative ways to literally change the world, starting with tech waste. E-waste comprises of discarded electronic appliances such as mobile phones, computers and televisions.

Humans generated a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) in 2016 (the equivalent of 4,500 Eiffel Towers) according to a study from the International Telecommunication Union, the UN University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association and published in The Global E-waste Monitor 2017. The report suggests that this is set to rise to 52.2m metric tonnes by 2021.

London-based SME RECONO, offers London-wide collections of unwanted electronics alongside ultra-safe, certified data deletion. Nothing is sent to landfill - every item that is bought to them is either repaired and resold (to reduce the number of new devices that need to produced) or recycled or upcycled. Devices are also recycled within the UK to reduce distance travelled.

“Recono is the missing link between all the great technology devices that end up in the trash every year and the growing number of willing buyers of refurbished tech,” says founder Nick Rawkins, “Recono collects used hardware from households and businesses free of charge. Then, at our warehouse, technicians sort, repair, and upgrade devices. They then get sold on, recycled in a sustainable way, or the parts are upcycled.”

Mobile Phone Use
Mobile phones make up a lot of the world's e-waste

It’s such a simple idea that it’s almost bizarre that there aren’t hundreds of companies doing similar things. But, says Rawkins, “the overwhelming feedback from our customers is that they’ve been frustrated with the lack of options when it comes to disposing of unwanted technology.”

He adds: “This means devices normally gather dust for a few years before being chucked into the rubbish. We’ve already prevented over 650 devices from being thrown into landfill, with the vast majority of them now back in use with new owners or through our charity partners.”

RECONO is on the cusp of a new way of working, which, says Rawkins, “is extremely exciting. As gadgets become ever more central to our world, we have to pioneer new approaches to our consumption and disposal of them. Because of the new uncharted territory, small and large companies alike have an opportunity to work together to give a new lease of life to electronics.”

RECONO.me’s work so far has saved one tonne of waste. Rawkins says: “we have big ambitions. Each year, the UK generates enough e-waste to fill Wembley Stadium six times over. We want to get that number down to zero.”

Elsewhere, Glasgow-based company Re-Tek works to help companies reuse tech as a secure, environmentally sustainable method of IT disposal and asset retirement. In 2018 Re-Tek extended the life of 200,000 used technology items for business and the consumer.

The company has recently been provided funding support through Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme, which helps small and medium sized businesses in Scotland be more resource efficient and create a more circular economy. Its project, Lease-Tek, provides an affordable refurbished computer hardware leasing service.

Re-Tek also provide a number of workshops aimed at demonstrating the positives of adopting a circular economy approach and also the pitfalls of not focusing enough on reuse. In association with its project partner Enscape Consulting and Aberdeen City Council’s Education Services, the company developed the TechKnow project, which included developing lesson plans on the circular economy and the importance of reusing electrical and electronic equipment.

Nick Rawkins
Nick Rawkins

This project won the Aberdeen Ecocity award for waste reduction and the Scottish Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice.

Re-Tek is conscious of its own footprint. Its facility is 70 per cent powered by renewable energy. Plus, its biomass boiler generates heat and hot water using pellets generated from sustainable, purpose-built forests and its solar panels generate electricity. Any unused electricity is supplied back to the national grid.

Founder Gordon Lowrie says he’s seeing a shift in the industry towards reducing waste: “There’s certainly more focus on extending the lifecycle of items, not only in our industry, but across all industries as a whole. There is sufficient legislation to enable WEEE [Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment] disposal but greater focus needs to be put upon other areas where large volumes of goods are still going to landfill.” Re-Tek operate a zero-landfill policy and handles more than 250,000 items per year that would most likely end up in landfill.

The Restart Project runs regular Restart Parties, where people teach each other how to repair their broken and slow devices. The London-based social enterprise works with schools and other organisations to help them value and use their electronics for longer. It also uses the data and stories it collects to help demand better, more sustainable electronics. So far, it says, out of 10,035 devices, 5,279 have been fixed, 2,803 were repairable and 1,909 were end-of-life.

Though there are plenty of startups entering the so-called “circular economy”, Rawkins believes things could be coordinated better: “There are a lot of great, inclusive events focused on bringing stakeholders together but I wish the circular economy was a bigger feature of the start-up scene to be honest; it's so vital and so exciting.”

He adds, “Circular thinking is still far from the norm, and even the large corporates that are working hard to adopt these practices are miles away from having fully circular business models/supply chains.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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