Millions of electronic devices, including PCs, monitors, mobile phones, printers and servers are retired and removed from service each year, contributing to growing piles of electronic waste that cannot be dealt with by producer take-back programmes alone, according to Gartner.
Producer take-back programmes, also known as extended producer responsibility (EPR), have become more common since the European Union (EU) introduced the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive.
The directive, which was developed to bring commonality to EU member countries on e-waste and recycling, compels the producer to meet the cost of dismantling, recovering, reusing and recycling the WEEE in an environmentally sound way.
Gartner estimates that around 40 countries worldwide currently have producer take-back laws with other countries, provinces, states and local governments considering them.
"There is little doubt that placing the responsibility on manufacturers for the collection and cost of recycling e-waste will give them a strong incentive to design products that are easier to de-manufacture, consume fewer materials and reduce the harmful content of their products," says Frances O'Brien, research vice-president at Gartner.
"However, complying with the myriad of varying global e-waste regulations is expensive for manufacturers, as is designing the harmful elements out of products and
these costs will ultimately be passed on to businesses and consumers."
According to Gartner, manufacturers alone cannot be held responsible for the disposal of electronic-waste and any solution that fails to recognise the shared responsibility of manufacturers, governments, end-users (be they organisations or individuals) and the recycling industry will be fundamentally flawed.
Governments must participate in the creation, modification and enforcement of e-waste regulations, continue to educate consumers about the hazards of inappropriate disposal of e-waste and make it easier for consumers to dispose of surplus assets.
O'Brien adds that end-users should not view producer take-back laws as a "get-out clause", absolving them from any responsibility for disposing of obsolete equipment.
"Organisations need to take a more considered approach to their asset and waste management from the very beginning, and plan for equipment disposal at the time of purchase," she says. "Purchasing environmentally-preferable products that have less-negative effects on the environment as well as consuming and disposing of less equipment should be a key goal for organisations and individuals around the world."