Subscribing to a greener future by reducing e-waste

In today’s world, having a smartphone in your pocket has become a necessity for survival. It keeps us connected with our friends, family, work, and the world around us. While this is not inherently bad, it is our ingrained attitude towards constantly upgrading our devices that comes at a huge environmental cost. A new model of consumption and attitude towards e-waste needs to be adopted and it starts with analysing how we consume these products in the first place.

In South Africa, this kind of e-waste is driven by traditional phone contracts in which every 24 months a new handset is provided and an old one is discarded.

Each year, about 50 to 60 million tons of e-waste are generated, equivalent to only 2-3% of annual global waste. Handheld devices account for a total of 10% of e-waste globally, yet the total annual carbon footprint of manufacturing mobile phones is sizeable, equal to at least the annual carbon emissions of a small country. Locally, the e-Waste Association of South Africa, South Africa generates about 6.2 kilograms of e-waste per citizen annually and only 12% of that is recycled.

This could mostly be avoided by instilling a culture that preserves devices rather than tosses them aside. There is an urgent need to refurbish e-waste. Refurbishing e-waste is the only responsible way to dispose of such waste.

In its environmental responsibility report, a leading manufacturer of Smartphones admitted that 77% of the carbon footprint generated by its phones occurs during manufacture. Yet, the carbon footprint generated during the use of the company's phones was a mere 17%. Hence even when e-waste is recycled, its manufacturer will still be responsible for generating the majority of its carbon footprint.

According to Mishaan Ratan from on-demand subscription platform Rentoza, we need to embrace a new culture of consumption if we are to break the cycle. By adopting a subscription mentality, he believes the demand and circular flow of refurbished devices will increase.