As the transition towards a more digitally connected world continues unabated and international communities embrace the promise of an information society, entire new economies and systems are being born. This evolution offers unprecedented opportunities for humanity, but at the same time, the consequence of the exponential use of electronic devices and equipment on a global scale has resulted in a rapidly growing amount of electronic waste.
According to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, e-waste refers to all items of electrical and electronic equipment, its parts and components that have been discarded as waste without the intent of re-use. E-waste is also referred to as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), electronic waste or e-scrap in different regions and under different circumstances in the world. It includes a wide range of products – almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply. E-waste is one of the fastest growing and most complex waste streams in the world, affecting both human health and the environment and proliferating a loss of valuable raw materials.
The dangers of e-waste
According to the most recent Global E-waste Monitor 2020, the world generated 53.6 metric tons (Mt) (Nearly 60 Billion US tons) of e-waste in 2019, an average of 7.3kg (16 lbs.) for every human on Earth. That figure is expected to reach nearly 75 Mt by 2030. Even with increasingly pervasive recycling programs, only a tiny fraction—17 percent—of global e-waste gets recycled.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), improperly dealing with e-waste creates public health and environmental concerns, even in countries where processing facilities exist. EPA has serious concerns about unsafe handling of used electronics and e-waste, in developing countries, that results in harm to human health and the environment. For example, there are problems with open-air burning and acid baths being used to recover valuable materials from electronic components, which expose workers, plants and animals to harmful substances. There are also problems with toxic materials leaching into the environment. These practices can expose workers to high levels of contaminants such as lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, brominated flame retardants and arsenic, which can lead to irreversible health effects, including cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage and diminished IQs.
How has e-waste become such a problem?
One of the reasons for the growth of e-waste is partially due to planned obsolescence, which is a tactic employed by product manufacturers to intentionally design products with short or limited lifecycles to increase profits. This practice emerged out of the great depression, with the idea that building in obsolescence would stimulate the economy and encourage continuous purchasing. If consumers desire, or are required to purchase, the newest model available, the manufacturers can see an ongoing or steadily increasing stream of sales to current and future customers.
Products with non-removable or non-upgradeable devices are contributing greatly to e-waste. Examples include devices with non-removable batteries, software updates incompatible with older versions, diminished durability by using inferior materials for components and parts, and so on.
The Right-to-Repair Movement
Planned obsolescence also includes the practice of companies intentionally producing and selling products that the consumers are unable to maintain or repair on their own.
When devices such as smartphones, laptops and televisions are damaged or break down due to a faulty component or part, it can be essentially impossible for an individual to fix themselves and unreasonably expensive to have them repaired by manufacturers or authorized suppliers. Therefore, by design, it is often easier and often cheaper to simply dispose of the device and purchase a new one. This lack of repairability means these electronic devices end up being abandoned and thrown out, adding to e-waste and increasing pressure on the supply of rare materials required to make new devices.
The right-to-repair movement aims to extend the life of electronic devices through repair and refurbishment, which can help to reduce e-waste and protect the viability of the repair and refurbishment labor markets. This is partially accomplished by making diagnostic tools, repair manuals and replacement parts available to the public.
New Laws and Regulations
Governments around the world are addressing e-waste with new laws and regulations, including the following:
- In March 2023, the European Commission adopted a new proposal on common rules promoting the repair of goods, which aligns with the objectives of the European Green Deal to provide savings for consumers and reduce waste.
- In Australia, the environment minister Tanya Plibersek and state environment ministers issued a joint commitment for Australia to recognize the urgency of environmental challenges and “design out waste and pollution, keep materials in use and foster markets to achieve a circular economy by 2030.”
- The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible to extend the life cycle of products. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum. When a product reaches the end of its life, its materials can be productively used again and again, thereby creating further value.
- In the U.S., New York became the first state to pass a right-to-repair bill in December 2022, called the Digital Fair Repair Act, which is now in effect as of July 2023. The bill says OEMs must provide materials, such as parts, manuals, and diagrams, to allow the individual owners of phones, laptops, appliances and other equipment, as well as independent repair providers—often small businesses—to facilitate their repairs.
- Lawmakers in 29 U.S. states, such as Minnesota, introduced right-to-repair bills in 2023.
SD 9 Specification
One of the major objectives of right-to-repair laws is to make repairs much more accessible to everyone. Always thinking ahead, SD Association demonstrated its commitment to continuous innovation with the release of SD Physical Specification Part 1 version 9.0 or in short SD 9. SD9.0’s new features include TCG, Replay Protected Memory Block (RPMB) and Fast Boot. Those features that are quite common in embedded memories (eMMC, UFS, M.2 and SSD), enable Self Encrypted Drive capability, secured DW update, secured boot partition and more. Such features allow usage of SD cards as semi-embedded replaceable devices that can help product manufacturers meet the new right-to-repair laws and regulations. SD 9 was developed with the intention to expand, simplify and improve how SD memory cards can be used across a wide spectrum of devices and applications and provide product manufacturers with the ability to ensure repairs are done using authentic replacement parts.
For decades, SD memory cards have provided manufacturers and consumers with a more environmentally sound option for upgrading devices by removing the current SD memory card and swapping it with a new one. SD9 takes the upgrade and repair processes even further.
Through the combination of the new features introduced with SD 9, together with the speeds and innovations of SD Express cards, users have new options for how SD and microSD memory cards can be used. For example, they can serve as easily removable solid-state drives (SSD) or semi-embedded memory cards. When service is needed on an electric vehicle, for example, instead of dismantling an entire system or hardware part, a user or technician can simply open a cover to easily eject the memory card to service or replace. No soldering or other technical skills or special equipment is required.
When using SD 9, with applications such as laptops, tablets, drones, surveillance cameras, dashcams, gaming consoles, virtual reality (VR) headsets/glasses, IoT modules, wearable medical devices and many others, the memory card may be tightly bound to a specific product or host device. An example use case would be with a semi-embedded card, where it is used within the body of the device but still easily accessible and replaceable under a removable cover. Product manufacturers may also use tightly bound cards as a security feature. When the memory card is tightly bound to the product host, the manufacturer can directly and securely provide a replacement memory card for maintenance, upgrades and repairs. This makes it safer and more secure by eliminating the dangers of malware being introduced as well as other risks associated with counterfeit cards. SD 9 helps raise confidence in the integrity and authenticity of any operating system or software required to operate a device.
The ultimate goal of environmental regulations and movements such as right-to-repair is to point industry and individuals more in the direction of a circular economy and reduce dangerous e-waste. We have a long road ahead of us, but with innovative specifications like SD 9 and SD Express, the SD Association is looking forward and helping pave the way toward a more sustainable future today.