Smartphone and iPad makers are launching new models each
year. When contemplating a new purchase, people often just consider whether or
not they can afford it. Few would think about the e-waste that might be produced
in the end. In contrast, Japan does a good job of reducing e-waste. While
preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the environmentally conscious Japanese
government called on Japanese people to donate their old mobile phones and
other old electronic devices to help make medals, with the goal of collecting
eight metric tons of gold, silver, and bronze to make 5,000 medals.
Unfortunately, many countries still fail to grasp the magnitude of the problems
caused by e-waste. Today, the amount of e-waste is growing at an astounding
rate worldwide. Indeed, e-waste as a type of urban solid waste has become an
environmental issue that cannot be ignored. So, in this materialistic society
when everyone is rushing to buy the newest models of smartphones and other gadgets,
is there anything we can do to help reduce e-waste?
Be an Environmentally
According to a random survey of UM students on how they
dispose of old electronics, conducted by the editorial board of My UM, more
than 80 per cent of the students surveyed own two or more electronic devices.
46 per cent of the respondents change their mobile phones once every one to two
years. Demi, a third-year student from the Faculty of Business Administration,
takes good care of her phone and computer, which she has been using for many
years. Demi has never thought about buying a new phone or computer, and she
believes making a financial plan is an effective way to avoid impulse buying.
To put it more specifically, if you have a clear long-term goal such as
studying abroad, you will be able to nip impulse buying in the bud.
As for high-tech products, Demi thinks it’s important to
know what you really need. ‘When everyone is buying the newest model, you need
to ask yourself, do I really need so many fancy functions? Don’t buy into the
myth of ‘status through consumption,’ she says. ‘You only need something that
can meet your needs. You don’t have to buy something just because everyone else
is buying it.’ Demi has noticed that there are few e-waste recycling stations
in Macao, and currently there are no clear guidelines on how to dispose of
discarded TV sets and refrigerators. So she believes it’s important to be an
environmentally conscious buyer.
Educate Students on
E-waste via Drama
To help students learn more about the harmful effects of e-waste, Dr Sancia Wan, a resident fellow of the Stanley Ho East Asia College, co-organised a workshop titled ‘The Cost of Electronics’, together with other educators in the field of global citizenship education. The workshop featured a drama based on a true story of a couple in Guiyu Town, Guangdong province. The couple burn plastic scraps in a small, poorly ventilated room in order to distinguish the different kinds of plastics through the pungent smell. This room, filled with toxic, cancer -causing air, is the same room where their children grew up. The workshop aimed to help students understand, through role play, the effects of the e-waste dismantling industry on local villagers.
Dr Wang believes that drama provides a lively and engaging
way of educating students on the effects of e-waste. ‘It encourages them to
rethink what they should do as consumers,’ she says. ‘In the past, I never
thought about how e-waste was recycled, and my old phones are all lying idle in
Murphy, a second-year student from the FBA majoring in
hospitality and gaming management, usually sells his old electronics to
secondhand stores. ‘If there is anything wrong with my phone, I will try to
see if I can repair it first,’ he says. ‘Some of my friends change phones frequently.
I think many people, myself included, don’t know much about the harmful effects
of e-waste. I only learned about its harmful effects through this activity.’
What We Can Do
Our survey also shows that nearly 80 per cent of UM students
either keep their unused electronics at home, re-sell to secondhand stores or
friends, or give them to relatives or friends. ‘Instead of waiting for the
perfect recycling method to appear, it’s more practical to start with doing
something small within our power,’ says Prof Andy Ip, an assistant professor
from the Faculty of Science and Technology. ‘The advances in science and technology
is just one of the reasons for the problem of e-waste, but it’s not the root
cause. The root cause is overbuying.’
Prof Ip suggests giving away old electronics that are
still usable to relatives and friends or donate to charity. ‘Of course the
government can also play an important role in raising public awareness about environmental
protection by launching relevant policies,’ he says. ‘For instance,
supermarkets in Germany raised the prices of shopping bags to encourage people
to foster the habit of carrying reusable shopping bags. Japan does a very good
job in garbage classification to make recycling easier.’ The next time you
visit an electronics store, try to be a more environmentally conscious
consumer. Before digging into your Chinese New Year red package, maybe you
should consider whether you really need the product and the e-waste your
purchase will produce.