REM

Image from The Gaia Foundation

The Gaia Foundation released a new report yesterday on electronics and the environment. The report, Short Circuit, was funded by the European Union—a sign that governments are increasingly aware of the environmental ramifications stemming from electronics manufacturing.

First the good news: 90% of the world’s population and 80% of the population living in rural areas currently have access to mobile technology—including half of the population of Africa. These devices are responsible for the huge growth of mobile commerce, governance, and banking in Africa.

Unfortunately, as a global community, we’re pretty bad at managing gadgets. Here’s your mind-blowing tech prediction of the day: By the end of this year, the total number of electronic devices in the world will surpass the number of people on it, The Foundation asserts.

The sheer volume of manufacturing and ever-shortening product life cycles put humanity in a bit of a planetary bind. Electronic devices are resource-intensive: The Foundation reports that a 20kg computer uses 75 times its weight in environmental resources during manufacturing. Short Circuit doesn't provide equivalent numbers for lighter-weight devices, but does contend that smaller electronics are not "lighter" on the Earth in terms of resource consumption.

“Like Dorian Gray, [electronic devices] are ever young and appealing, but the Faustian pact that underlies them has to be seen for what it is,” the report reads. “Unless we urgently devise new strategies to deal with it, technology, seen by many as the liberator of humankind, will only hasten our demise.”

Now for more good news: There’s hope for us yet. The Foundation is calling on manufacturers to rethink design—to make devices easy to disassemble, easy to reuse, easy to recycle, and easy to repair. The report even profiles our friends over at The Restart Project, a London-based organization that hosts repair events.

“By designing for easy disassembly, recycling, re-use and repair, designers can ensure that the wealth of materials contained in the end-of-life stage of items can be transferred and recouped for the next, hopefully sustainable, ‘generation’ of products, thus minimising costs, waste, and the need for further mining.”

For the full report, visit The Gaia Foundation.