With E-Waste Posing Environmental Risks, Can Ethical Electronics Manufacturing Be the Solution?

ethical electronics manufacturing

In this digital age we’re in, when there are more smartphones than people in the world, it’s been noted that technology has made all our lives better – except when it doesn’t.

You might think that’s a reference to devices that malfunction from time to time. You know, we come to rely on our phones or laptops and go crazy when they stop working. But that’s not the concern here. Everything breaks down from time to time, and we either repair or replace it. Such is life.

The area where rapid advances in technology have been more problematic and far reaching have been environmental. People are constantly replacing their electronics, which has created a huge amount of unwanted electronics, dubbed e-waste.

It’s a worldwide problem that’s even come to the attention of the United Nations, which is working to encourage nations to prevent e-waste from ending up in community landfills, where the toxic chemicals inside them pose significant risks to our environment.

And while a big focus in recent years has been on the need to find alternatives to tossing e-waste out with regular trash, the issues haven’t all revolved around the environment. Lately the focus has been on the producers of these electronic devices and the push for “ethical” electronics manufacturing.

That debate is about the manufacturers’ responsibility to recognize how they contribute to the e-waste problem, and what can be done to solve it. And this debate isn’t purely academic. In some case, state lawmakers have taken action, passing new laws to address these issues.


What Does Ethical Manufacturing Refer To?


Part of the debate over “ethical” electronics has been an increasingly vocal push for producers to consider the environmental impact of their work.

You might ask what the manufacturers’ responsibility is, when it’s the consumer who toss their used electronics into the trash that gets sent to landfills, not manufacturers. All the producers are doing is creating the products that people want.

There’s always a but

While manufacturers don’t toss out old devices, environmentalists and others have noted the rapid pace at which electronic devices get updated with new features, advanced technologies and a host of snazzy improvements. A key reason why consumers are so quick to pitch the older version, which they now consider obsolete.

Activists are also frustrated about something else: what’s been called “designed obsolescence”: smartphones, laptops and other devices that stop working after a certain period of time. In some instances, the battery is designed to expire. At that point, consumers have no choice but to replace their devices.

And that’s the point when far too many of them get tossed out with their household trash.

Far too many devices are created with a finite life cycle, forcing consumers to toss out older devices rather than repair it. Manufacturers would prefer that you buy their latest models rather than repair older electronics, often by making it either too expensive or too impractical to fix the old model.

Tech companies have relied on a system where products become outdated, and the result is that in 2016 alone, 6.9 million tons of electronic waste got generated in the U.S. Worldwide, e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream, with tens of millions of tons being discarded annually.

Environmental advocates, and those who push for the recycling of e-waste products, have tried to get out the message that a future where nothing ever gets repaired poses significant problems.

So what’s the solution?


Green manufacturing, and Right to Fix laws


This is a complex issue. Clearly, millions of consumers think these products are valuable and don’t care how they got made, as long as they have the newest and most sophisticated gadget out there.

So advocates have turned to manufacturers, not consumers, and tried engendering a stronger sense of corporate social responsibility.

And part of that means being proactive in improving the social and environmental impact when building new devices.

One of the solutions being vigorously promoted is the recycling of e-waste – taking used electronics to a well-established recycling firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation, where the parts within these electronics can be removed and then used to make new products — a winning solution overall.

But there’s also an increased push to have electronics manufacturers adopt “ethical” production practices, where designers and engineers look for ways to improve this situation and make products that are environmentally sustainable.

Tech companies have come under increased scrutiny to ensure their gadgets are manufactured responsibly, and that’s included encouraging more “Green” production: building electronics in ways that don’t drive up consumption of the Earth’s resources.

Green manufacturing means the expanded use of electronics recycling and reusing materials from older devices to make new ones. It also means encouraging electronics manufacturers to invest in eco-friendly materials rather than relying on toxic materials that are cheaper to use.

For example, in the process of manufacturing electronics, many devices contain toxic PVC (vinyl) plastics. The environmental organization Greenpeace has been encouraging major electronics-producing companies to adopt guides to greener electronics that will lead to better environmental practices as well and produce toxic-free products.

Creating greener electronics is also about lowering the amount of energy being used, and carbon emissions released, during the entire production process.

Another key issue is the fact that some companies make it difficult for people to repair what they own, often by no longer making replacement parts or repair manuals available. That’s led to the Right to Repair movement, which is picking up speed in more and more states.

These states are passing laws designed to give consumers the ability to access the information they need to fix what they own. These new laws recognize that some of the items that consumers own are not completely beyond their useful life cycle.

Far too often, though, the consumer discovers the reality that the actual lifespan of their device is much shorter than they expected, which is where designed obsolescence becomes a problem.

Known as either Right to Repair or the Fair Repair Act, these bills are designed to make it easier for people to repair their broken electronic equipment, whether it’s cell phones, laptops, computers, appliances, or cameras. The laws generally require manufacturers to release repair information to the public and sell spare parts to owners and independent repair shops.

The bills also aim to give consumers more options when repairing an older device than simply relying on the manufacturer for assistance.

Today, companies in the electronics manufacturing industry are among the most lucrative and financially successful organizations in the world. They’ve created consumer electronics that have changed, and improved, the way people live.

And it’s becoming a more fiercely competitive industry every day, with these manufacturers under an increased amount of pressure to make the most advanced products possible.

Now there’s a push for them to also take a greater responsibility of the environmental hazards created by the skyrocketing amount of e-waste being generated. It’s no small challenge.




No one doubts that consumer electronics have changed the way people live, often in remarkable ways. At the same time, there’s no real debate anymore over the fact that the Earth’s resources face grave risks from the growing amount of e-waste globally.

That’s why environmentalists have aggressively pushed the message that the manufacturers of these devices should start making only green electronics that don’t contain toxic chemicals, and that can be recycled, and then made again from the same recycled materials.

In the meantime, recycling remains the most effective way to keep e-waste from damaging our environment and our health.

Great Lakes Electronics Corporation has a great reputation for being trusted experts in the recycling and management of waste electronics and other metals. The unwanted electronics brought to Great Lakes Electronics Corporation is recycled in a responsible, environmentally conscious way. That’s important to this family-owned and operated business, which prides itself on being strong stewards of our environmental.

Great Lakes Electronics Corporation serves customers both large and small, from private customers to large corporations.

Contact them today at 888-392-7831 to request a quote.