The next Olympics champions may sling e-waste medals – that is medals around their necks forged from materials from recycled phone parts, and that is a good thing.
The world is embarrassed. It should be. We’re trivial and vain. We want too much too fast. Last year’s flagship devices are old by the time the New Year yawns. Never mind the fact that differences in this one-year gap more or less don’t affect the performance at all. RAM increments are by a GB or two, which doesn’t make much of a difference. Processor speeds improve crawlingly slow. Moore’s Law is on holiday. Yet every year, like clockwork, or a bad habit, we rush to the shops, queue at Safaricom Open Days armed with cash and Bonga Points to get new phones at insanely high prices if the slew of ‘flagship killers‘ are anything to go by.
You will be amazed by the number of things needed to make your little pocket love-joy the amazing device it is. This article by Techradar (a must-read) just goes to show how extravagant we can get with the earth’s resources to achieve the connected world & pure mobile entertainment of our dreams.
The collective embarrassment of the world has shone through in ways, some more innovative than others. Fairphone is an ambitious project to manufacture phones in a process that is conscious of the environmental impact of the business. That’s one. Add to this the various modularity implementations by Google (Project Ara), Motorola and LG among others; projects that aim to make your phone or tablet last longer with swappable/upgradeable parts. There are refurbishment programs too, most recently by Samsung, to sell used phones. This counteracts the need to manufacture gadgets for the mid-tier or low-tier market segment. Apple too has been doing this. The auto industry swivels around this, even.
Then there is the whole recycling business.
Various phone parts go to waste with our thrifty nature. We discard too much. A huge percentage of e-waste is made up of phones and tablets which are almost always non-upgradeable. Most computers can be upgraded. Thankfully, a number of companies and organizations have grown around/adapted ways to deal with this issue within the African continent and specifically in Kenya, Recycle Afrika and WEEE Centre (Kenya) being some of the notable organizations dealing with e-waste.
Japan is one of the countries that has been on the forefront in this strategy that the UN now calls “one of the world’s fastest growing streams of waste” in the society today. According to The Verge, they have been recycling tons of e-waste year after year, 2014 being a remarkable one where they salvaged 143 kilograms of gold, 1.566 tons of silver and 1.112 tons of copper, all of which are crucial in the manufacture of electronics, which the country is known for.
One of their strategies, according to Nikkei Asian Review and The Verge, is to reclaim all the precious metals required for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics medals from e-waste. This isn’t unachievable with the numbers shown above. This is an important move not just in an effort to ease the environmental burden of such manufacturing processes but also because the Olympics is a global hallmark event. If this glowing event itself shows effort in recycling and actually giving a damn about the environment, then perhaps these actions will be mirrored elsewhere in the world.
I honestly root for this. In the next Olympics, there hopefully will be more than games to cheer for.