The E-waste Problem: Can the Blockchain Solve It?
The e-waste problem has been tackled from many angles...
17:56 01 October 2018
The e-waste problem has been tackled from many angles, but with the landfills accumulating more and more electronic devices, it seems it is a losing battle. However, experts have been examining blockchain as a possible rival in turning the tables.
Before considering the potential role of blockchain, we will touch on the e-Waste problem, and then tie in the possibilities for a blockchain to address it. Are the experts on the right track?
The E-Waste Problem
Discarded smartphones alone will account for half of the environmental footprint that transportation industry currently has, by around 2040. Looking at the current state of affairs, the situation seems dire.
By themselves, smartphones are most often just thrown in the trash. They are far more difficult to disassemble. And recycling companies often do not take them like they used to.
There is the issue of precious metals and toxic substances from these devices endangering the environment.
But experts suggest that a technology, which has been with us for a decade, designed for another industry, could help solve it. The technology is the blockchain.
What is a blockchain? Where has it been adapted thus far outside of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? Does it have the potential to more effectively solve the e-waste recycling problem?
What Is the Blockchain?
A block is a chunk of information assigned a unique digital signature, identifying it exclusively over any other. Each block connects to the other, forming a “chain”.
The system is decentralized so control exists solely in the network. So the information stored in this way cannot be falsified or corrupted.
Where Else Have Blockchains Been Successfully Adapted?
Here are two companies that have successfully adapted blockchains:
Plastic Bank - A Canadian company dedicated to diminish plastic waste in other parts of the globe. They are successfully operating in Peru, Colombia, the Philippines and Haiti, all developing countries. They are also working on expansion as well.
Recycling centers are installed in many places where someone can recycle their plastic. As an incentive, the system rewards individuals with digital tokens they can use for food or anything else it will buy. The digital token is secured by the blockchain, and all the information associated with that transaction is recorded. They even have an app so users can easily redeem the tokens.
The recycled plastic is sold to companies who use it, the information of which is connected to every recycling transaction related to the sale. With such specific accounting, these companies know where their investment goes.
French Rail – Blockchain technology is used to record the activity of all the small recycling stations they have within a network, right down to the name of the waste manager who collected it from the station.
Their pilot program saved them over $2,300 in monthly expenses.
The Potential For the Blockchain To Solve the E-Waste Problem
Blockchain demonstrates through the two aforementioned examples something that has not been discussed yet – accountability.
It is about more than recording data. It is about finding a way to measure progress and assign responsibility to the individuals and organizations behind the data.
No industry has been 100% immune to “cheaters”, recycling included. That being since people and companies are not always prone to feel accountable.
Blockchain technology could put a stop to this. If a blockchain were used, people might be more inclined to recycle their devices in exchange for digital tokens they can use to buy things, rather than toss them in the garbage.
Ultimately, with the amount of data that can be securely recorded in blockchains, from the moment a device is recycled to the organization that processes it, there is finally accountability on a wide scale.
Why can we say this? Information that could potentially back people or companies into a corner can often simultaneously move them to action. Any such action in favor of combatting e-waste, motivated by accountability, will do the entire process – and the landfills – a world of good.
If there is a problem in the system, the information in the blockchain can help identify where it originates. Cheaters cannot win.
Implementing blockchain tech is a big idea, and resolving the e-waste problem is big, so we need to think big as well. There is enough evidence to suggest that it is a good fit.
From the examples we considered and the concept behind blockchain as a whole, the core cause of the e-waste and many other tech-centric problems could be narrowed down to accountability.
All things considered, blockchain may bring it back.
Plunc.com is one of the UK’s most trusted online recyclers for anyone looking to sell phones, iPads or other high end gadgets.