Global E-Waste: Unintended Consequences of Marketing Strategies Necessitates A Plan for Change

By Clark, Leigh Anne; Clark, W. Randy | Journal of Managerial Issues, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Global E-Waste: Unintended Consequences of Marketing Strategies Necessitates A Plan for Change


Clark, Leigh Anne, Clark, W. Randy, Journal of Managerial Issues


The global community is in the midst of an environmental crisis of which many consumers and business leaders are not aware. Karin Lundgren prepared a report, The Global Impact of E-Waste: Addressing the Challenge, for the International Labour Office and described e-waste as "currently the largest growing waste stream. It is hazardous, complex and expensive to treat in an environmentally sound manner, and there is a general lack of legislation or enforcement surrounding it" (2012: 9).

E-waste is defined as "all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste without the intent of re-use." (Balde et al., 2015: 12). Included in the category of e-waste is cooling and heating equipment, screens, monitors, computers, television sets, lamps, radios, washing machines, refrigerators, ovens, small appliances, and IT and communications electronics. In 2015, the United Nations University issued the first report to quantify' the amount of global e-waste using a comprehensive, unified methodology reporting that 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated that year. The 2017 report measured 44.7 million tons for 2016 indicating an eight percent growth in two years. That amount of e-waste weighs the same as eight of the great Egyptian pyramids (Vidal, 2013) or almost 4,500 Eiffel towers (Balde et al, 2017). Balde et al (2017) predicted that the amount of global e-waste would reach 52.2 million metric tons in 2021.

Currently, much of the e-waste remains stored in people's homes or businesses until storage is inconvenient and the owner disposes of the electronic device in landfills, incinerators, or through a recycling program (Balde et al., 2017; Lundgren, 2012). Only 20% of global e-waste is documented as being recycled (Balde et al., 2017). Lepawsky (2018) explained that recycling e-waste requires a lot of energy and because of the toxic chemicals contained in many electronic devices, e-waste is often dangerous to the people and the environment thereby making safe recycling expensive. Beginning several decades ago, developed countries began shipping their e-waste to undeveloped countries for disposal. Lundgren (2012: 9) reported that "of the e-waste in developed countries that is sent for recycling, 80 percent ends up being shipped (often illegally) to developing countries such as China, India, Ghana, and Nigeria for recycling. Within the informal economy of such countries, it is recycled for its many valuable materials by recyclers using rudimentary techniques."

E-waste contains chemicals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and flame retardants (Vidal, 2013). When e-waste is disposed of in traditional ways, these chemicals over time leech into the environment polluting the world's waters, land, and air. When e-waste is disposed of by local villagers in third world countries to yield reusable metals, people and the surrounding homes and towns are exposed to these dangerous toxins and become ill (Vidal, 2013). Recently the World Health Organization included in its 2017 Atlas on Children's Health and the Environment electronic waste as an emerging environmental threat to children's health noting that much of the waste is shipped illegally to developing countries where children are exposed to toxic chemicals when they come in contact with the landfills and other disposal areas.

Much of the focus on e-waste is on the end-user side when the electronic device is discarded (see Balde et al., 2015), but researchers and commentators are beginning to focus up-stream to the producer of the product recognizing that electronics are not being built for easy recycling (Lepawsky, 2018) and there is a need for e-waste policy and legislation that incorporates the principles of sustainability theory (Daum et al., 2017). Daum et al. (2017) examined ten years of e-waste research in Accra, Ghana, and concluded that there are many actors and institutions that are exploiting people and the environment in the e-waste industry. …

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