We discard huge amounts of electronics every year, creating a toxic wasteland – often in the poorest countriesThe Observer editorial
this Christmas? Consumers love the sleek designs and the new connectivity they offer, businesses can't make enough for a vast and hungry global market, and governments see technological innovation and turnover as the quick way out of recession. This is a new age of the machine and electronic equipment is indispensable in home and workplace.
But there is a downside to the revolution that governments and companies have so far ignored. In the drive to generate fast turnover and new sales, companies have deliberately made it impossible to repair their goods and have shortened the lifespan of equipment.
Hardware is designed not to keep up with software, a computer's life is now under two years and mobile phones are upgraded every few months. Many electronic devices now have parts that cannot be removed or replaced. From being cheaper to buy new devices than to repair them, it has now reached the point where it is impossible to repair them at all.
The result is that much electronic equipment is impossible to recycle. As devices are miniaturised, they become increasingly complex. A single laptop may contain hundreds of different substances, dozens of metals, plastics and components which are expensive to dispose of. As we saw last week from Ghana, vast quantities of this dangerous "e-waste" is being dumped on developing countries where it is left to some of the poorest people to try to extract what they can in dangerous conditions.