Since the kids, in most parts of the world, are preparing themselves to go back to schools, after weeks or months of vacations, I believe it is the right time for computer and the waste management industries to study their lessons from the current E-waste management status. And I believe that those lessons are elementary for the future of waste management and recycling - so this is Trend #3: E-waste management. And the reason is because E-waste management includes all the dimensions of the future problems: rapid change of materials and products, fast consumption, valuable resource recovery, serious environmental and health impacts, multinational non-state giants, global conventions and a conflict between developed and developing worlds. In brief, the situation goes like this.
According the most recent statistics by STEP (Solving The E-waste Problem) initiative, in 2014 roughly 42 million tones of E-waste were generated. The global production of E-waste is continuously rising and it will be exponentially increased as developing economies grow and new technologies are developed.
For any given country, the total number of computers and other potential E-waste items is strongly correlated with the country's GDP, because electrical and electronic items are essential for the functioning of all but the most primitive economies. But the main problem is not their rising generation but their inappropriate management and the associated illegal exports - recycling and dumping practices, mainly at India, SE Asia and China.
Despite the many international efforts to resolve the problem, E-waste management is becoming an emblematic failure of our modern societies as it combines a. rapid and continuous technological progress in manufacturing and process power b. fast consumption and rapid change of products or their versions and c. an unprepared waste management system which finally pushes e-waste to SE Asia for environmentally harmful management.
Contamination associated with E-waste has already caused considerable environmental degradation in poor countries and negatively affected the health of the people who live there.
The rapidly growing literature and evidence on the serious environmental and health impacts posed by current management practices in China and India is a certain signal for the importance of the problem. Thus, E-waste should be considered as a global health emergency too. For the available scientific evidence you can check the article "Health consequences of exposure to e-waste: a systematic review"
There is still limited knowledge on the ecological effects, human health risks and remediation options for some E-waste contaminants, such as Li and Sb, since they are not normally environmental pollutants. But this is not hopeful at all, in contrast, there are many reasons to be afraid of our limited knowledge.
Now, why do I believe that the solutions that will be formulated in E-waste will define future waste management trends? Simply, because E-waste is becoming a so emblematic problem that needs an emblematic solution too. If governments, waste management companies and of course, most of all, the big and powerful gadgets' producers (Apple, Samsung, Google etc.) are going to create viable recycling and resource recovery networks for this global problem, then this will be used as a patterns for other, similar, universal waste streams. If this will not be the case, then sooner or later, the current disastrous management of E-waste will destroy the reputation of the companies that produce gadgets. And this will impact, certainly, their products distribution and popularity. And of course, there is no solution without redesign of the main products, the fourth and maybe the most important R in this case, after Reuse, Recycle, Recover
Instead of conclusions, I feel that rich countries have self-interest in mitigating the negative environmental effects of E-waste because it will negatively affect the quality and quantity of food and manufactured goods that are imported from poor countries. Let's hope they will act on time...