Peru makes a big statement about reusing rather than recycling of electronics

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A lot is being talked about how reusing items is usually greener than recycling, and the more an item can be reused, the better.

This is definitely the case for electronics, since throwing them out or even trying to recycle them leads to environmental harm. One nation, it would appear, may just be a leader for this green practice, and that nation is Peru in South America.

Electronics shipped off to developing nations for "recycling" are often still perfectly good and usable, and often end up being broken up in a manner that is neither healthy for the environment nor for those doing the breaking up, the recycling.

A study called "Product or Waste? Importation and End-of-Life Processing of Computers in Peru," and reported at Greener Computing, found that that in Peru imported electronics do not go straight to e-waste dumps to be broken up for recycling but rather 85% of discarded computers sent to the country are reused instead of recycled.

While many countries certainly do not practice this kind of sorting and reuse, it is a practice that could certainly help mitigate the impacts of e-waste in developing nations and should be encouraged – alongside, of course, far better reuse, repair, and recycling practices in the developed nations where the e-waste shipments originate.

Why can we not for that at the country of origin, so to speak? Why can we not refurbish and reuse those computers wherever they are sent from? This could indeed be possible if we would not rely on Microsoft Windows and its need to have lots of memory and powerful processors but instead would migrate over to Open Source operating systems that are not power hungry such as Linux in it various guises.

It is my belief that such e-waste should first of not be seen as waste and secondly should be repaired and refurbished, where necessary, for reuse in the developed nations themselves. It can be done but we must rethink our use and our attachment to proprietary software.

The United States is the primary source of used PCs imported to Peru. Analysis of shipment value (as measured by trade statistics) shows that 87−88% of imported used computers had a price higher than the ideal recycle value of constituent materials. The official trade in end-of-life computers is thus driven by reuse as opposed to recycling.

This starkly underscores both the wastefulness of the US when it comes to electronics, and the great benefits of reusing products instead of recycling them. If other areas where electronics are recycled in toxic ways are helped to create a system for tracking incoming electronics as Peru has developed, perhaps we would see a drastic reduction in e-waste and pollution associated with unregulated e-waste processing.

I am also certain that we can find the same in other developed countries such as Britain and Germany, as an example. That is to say that perfectly good computers and peripherals are being sent abroad as e-waste simply because they have become, thanks to Microsoft and other proprietary software makers, “obsolete”.

But what does being “obsolete” mean as far as computers are concerned?

Primarily it means that those computers can no longer run the latest proprietary software from either Microsoft or other companies and hence upgrades are necessary and, as it is often cheaper, for companies and government at least, to buy new rather than to have refurbished those computers end up in the trash.

The same machines can, however, still can run full tilt and work well also in industry and government with Open Source software in general and operating system specifically and there is no need to discard them.

But very few companies and agencies seem to be prepared to go and use Open Source and hence we end up with all those waste PCs and such.

Time to rethink...

© 2009