Comment: E-waste bins are now commonplace, but can we rely on ourselves to use them properly?

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TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE THINGS WE DON’T WANT

When it comes to reducing e-waste, the most obvious solution is to resist buying new gadgets that we don’t need.

But that’s a lot to say when e-commerce platforms run ad after ad about monthly deals. Or when no one will fix your decades-old TV and refrigerator — or at such an extortionate price you might as well buy a new one.

Singapore’s efforts to get producers to take charge of their customers’ e-waste is a step in the right direction.

Brands are also part of it. In March, HP launched a subscription program for printer ink cartridges in Singapore, which allows customers to return used cartridges for recycling while cutting printing costs in half.

It’s a win-win situation because new printer ink cartridges can be so expensive that buying a new, cheap printer would be more profitable.

Seeing the business case for recovering e-waste, Apple said in 2016 that it was developing a robot, named Liam, to recycle its products. While it’s unclear how much Liam has since recycled, the US government is funding research into robots that can identify different smartphones, remove batteries and harvest valuable coins.

With the vast diversity of electronics, it can be hard to expect an artificial intelligence sophisticated enough to take apart every product ever made.

That’s why moves to standardize parts — like the European Union’s plans to make USB-C charging ports mandatory for device manufacturers — are badly needed across the industry.

But these solutions are only in their infancy. And while some of us rely on trash robots to power our circular economy, perhaps we can do the bare minimum: read the labels on an e-waste bin properly and avoid putting things in it that don’t. have no place.

Erin Low is a research writer at CNA Digital.

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