Electronic waste: Behind the shiny, pretty new gadgets

When you’re in Hong Kong, you’re either spoiled with the latest models of electronic gadgets, sometimes before they’re even released elsewhere or feel worried how a huge amount of electronic waste gets disposed. Such ‘privilege’ of being the first to get hold of latest releases in consumer electronics is usually reciprocated with unequivocal enthusiasm by locals.

When iPhone was first released, people had to queue in front of appointed shops the night before they opened. Enterprising folks even crossed the Pacific Ocean to address the immediate need for iPad 2. There’s little doubt the life span of a typical gadget – computer, smart phone, digital camera, game console or accessories like compact discs and DVDs – has become shorter, not necessarily because they easily break down (as a matter of fact they do) but because owners have become smitten by their future siblings.

While the new releases get the lion’s share of attention, gracing computer expos promoted by companies and embracing full spread ads on glossy magazines, their predecessors suddenly become a bit obsolete. Even though such depreciation benefits the price-conscious market segment, eventually those in the lower end of the chain gets dumped in guiltless fashion along with the faulty and unusable models. In 2009, Hong Kong generated 72,000 tons of electronic waste – 7,700 of which remain within the city’s landfills – up from 67,200 tons in 2005.

For a city that struggles to promote recycling and disposal of its own garbage in an efficient and sustainable way, such a situation is a nightmare, at least to those who are conscious about the environment. Even though most of the city’s e-waste products are exported overseas, partly through second-hand dealers, the amount that remains is still huge. Consumer electronics in Hong Kong is big business and we can only expect bigger things to come.

The government needs to fast track its approach in dealing electronic waste. Or else…