World Wide Waste with Gerry McGovern

Kaustubh Thapa 'E - waste : Ultimate Producer Responsibility'

John Carter
March 2, 2023
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Kaustubh Thapa 'E - waste : Ultimate Producer Responsibility'

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People like Kaustubh Thapa give me hope. Kaustubh is finishing his PhD at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. His collaborative research in Nigeria, China and Vietnam incorporates justice, equity, and sustainability for a fairer EU waste trade and a just circular economy transition. I started off by asking Kaustubh if he could give me a bit of history in relation to the European dumping of e-waste in Nigeria and other African countries

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[00:00:00] Gerry McGovern: People like Go tapa, gimme Hope. Go is finishing his doctorate at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Ure University in the Netherlands. His collaborative research in Nigeria, China, and Vietnam incorporates justice, equity, and sustainability for a fair European Union, waste trade, and a just circular economy transit.

[00:00:29] Gerry McGovern: I started off by asking Gust if you could give me a bit of history in relation to the European dumping of E-waste in Nigeria and other African countries.

[00:00:42] Kaustubh Thapa: Things travel, waste, travel, just like, uh, bananas and our avocados, travel waste and secondhand products also travel. And this kinda traveling has not been a recent phenomenon and it has been going on, at least I know since the eighties when waste, uh, [00:01:00] was dumped to other countries, especially the toxic waste, which was quite expensive to take care of.

[00:01:08] Kaustubh Thapa: The countries where the toxic waste was produced was sent somewhere else because, uh, it was cheaper. Usually people found places where there was no toxic waste regulation so that they can save money. And this led to the formation of diesel convention, which also partly guides the shipment of electronic waste because how toxic electronic waste is.

[00:01:36] Kaustubh Thapa: And this has been going on since eighties. Uh, And still a big issue despite international convention, despite newer policies, despite a focus on just transition. So kind of unfortunate that. The society has to tackle the same problem for over three or four decades. [00:02:00]

[00:02:00] Gerry McGovern: You put your, your, your finger on the issue in that, uh, rich countries, uh, don't want to deal with their waste.

[00:02:09] Gerry McGovern: They find it too expensive. They waste that we know plastic waste and another waste. Uh, and basically, uh, they send it to poorer countries where there's less. Regulations so they can essentially get, get away with it, uh, and. Is, is that, is it as bad as it was in the eighties? Has it, has it improved? Or what sort of percentages are we taught?

[00:02:38] Gerry McGovern: What's the likelihood of a, a, a laptop in Ireland or, or in the Netherlands or in in Norway? Ending up in a place like Pakistan or Nigeria, is it, is it has, has anything changed since the eighties? Uh, what percentages might we be talking about of the, the total [00:03:00] quantities? Well, this is

[00:03:02] Kaustubh Thapa: quite hard to answer because the whole process is very non, non-transparent, and uh, because it lacks accountability, even though maybe we can track where our avocados or bananas come from in the value chain, it is not the same with, uh, waste or end products.

[00:03:22] Kaustubh Thapa: I could not answer if things have changed since the eighties. But of course, if you, I'd like to think at least the transplant movement of hazardous waste, not just electronic waste, but all kinds of hazardous waste might have. Gone down because, uh, of the international regulation, most of the countries in the world have signed the regulation.

[00:03:44] Kaustubh Thapa: So it's enforced by law. Uh, it's a different matter to discuss if, uh, the law that is enforced is monitored or not. But at least my guess would be [00:04:00] things are getting better. But at the same time, if you look at the global picture inequality, Is has gone up, especially since the pandemic. So I, I, I cannot really give you a percentage of how much waste is being shipped elsewhere or what percentage of secondhand items has shipped from Ireland to.

[00:04:21] Kaustubh Thapa: Nigeria.

[00:04:23] Gerry McGovern: I was recently at a conference and uh, somebody was telling me that from Europe they estimate that only about 10% of, uh, e-waste ends up being, uh, shipped, uh, to places like Africa. But some other places that have been reading people were estimating that about 70% of, you know, electronics. Ends up in poorer con rich, that that starts off in rich countries, ends up in, you know, poorer countries.

[00:04:56] Gerry McGovern: But even if it's only 10%, [00:05:00] that's still a very substantial quantity when you consider it's estimated every year we're creating about over 50 million tons of e-waste.

[00:05:10] Kaustubh Thapa: So it is not just about the quantity or the amount, but also the principles. Under which such transformer movement of waste operates. For example, in the European Union, extended producer responsibility regulates that manufacturers of the products, uh, should be responsible for managing electronic waste.

[00:05:32] Kaustubh Thapa: But when you look at the secondhand items that are shipped somewhere else, for instance, from Netherlands, where I live to, uh, Nigeria, where my research is focused, you see. Only the secondhand product, which eventually becomes electronic waste moves, but the responsibility from the producers is shift. But not the resource or the expertise or the technology know how [00:06:00] to manage electronic waste.

[00:06:02] Kaustubh Thapa: So, uh, I agree with you, even if it's a very small quantity, it should not be the case, especially given it causes injustices and we live in 21st century and such, uh, cases of social and ecological harm should not exist. Ab

[00:06:20] Gerry McGovern: Absolutely. And you've kind of indicated one of the ways it gets into the countries, it, it kind of, it gets in as secondhand products, uh, and.

[00:06:34] Gerry McGovern: Maybe tell us a bit more about that, because somebody was tell telling me as well that you know when, even if it is, uh, in reasonable condition in say, Ireland or the Netherlands, the actual way they're shipped, they're just thrown into big containers. That, that the chances are that even if they're working, a lot of them are working.

[00:06:56] Gerry McGovern: When they leave the country, they'll be broken by the [00:07:00] time. They get to the destination, and even if they're not broken, they probably are nearly dead in the process. So it's a kind of, in a way it's, it's, it's a fake secondhand to some degree. We know it's about to die, so to, to somehow skirt the regulation, we classify it as secondhand, and that's a nice way.

[00:07:24] Gerry McGovern: Of getting it into a poorer country so that it can die there. And they have to deal with it

[00:07:31] Kaustubh Thapa: there. Yeah, exactly. This is, this has sadly become the process of exporting waste management responsibility somewhere else. Like you said, secondhand items, maybe it, a phone will last about a year or two, but eventually it becomes electronic wastes, so somebody has to take care of the waste.

[00:07:53] Kaustubh Thapa: The producers are no longer responsible if you ship it outside of the European Union. Uh, [00:08:00] for instance, when you look in Nigeria, we don't know the numbers because the whole value chain is very, uh, non-transparent. Uh, we asked, uh, experts about 24 different experts who are working in the case of Nigeria to estimate, uh, what person is of the secondhand products, uh, come as electronic waste and.

[00:08:25] Kaustubh Thapa: They estimated, this is not real figure, but best estimation from the experts. They said about 41% of mobile phone and tablets that come to Nigeria are in fact, uh, electronic waste. They don't function. And for, for, for the. Rest that functions only about 17 months is the durability. So after 17 months in average, they become electronic waste.

[00:08:53] Kaustubh Thapa: And we also looked at how this, uh, in the, in the port, how, how they check for [00:09:00] functionality of electronics. And we went to Dutch Harbor and we saw a volunteer who was just testing. Random devices by plugging it in the electric socket. And if it sees a green light, it works. But that, that is not the case, even if I can turn my computer on.

[00:09:17] Kaustubh Thapa: But if the motherboard doesn't work, I if my hard drive doesn't work of, of course this is a waste. This is not a functional item. And also you can't just have some volunteers check one or two items out of done outta a big container. This is not how you really, ethically, Verify if a secondhand product is functional or not.

[00:09:40] Kaustubh Thapa: So this kind of consideration is not there. It should be the case, but somehow it just is not prioritized in the, uh, waste governance or the secondhand item governance in Europe.

[00:09:56] Gerry McGovern: Yeah. So in essence, [00:10:00] we could almost say that secondhand is a synonymous for dumping in, in a lot of scenarios. That certainly there's very little care, uh, taken, uh, to ensure that these are genuine quality secondhand products that will, that will have.

[00:10:20] Gerry McGovern: You know, a reasonably decent lifespan. Yeah. One

[00:10:25] Kaustubh Thapa: can make that assumption, at least based on our findings. Uh, we actually conclude that even the reuse is in a very important part of circular economy to extend the life of a product for as long as possible. If you look at the. Electronic and electric items shipped from Europe to Nigeria, then reuse is actually not sustainable.

[00:10:47] Kaustubh Thapa: And it's a, it's causing social and ecological harm. So you, you, you're right, it has sadly been a way to dump, uh, Electronics somewhere far [00:11:00] away, but at the same time, it could be better because, uh, when we went to Nigeria, we saw a lot of secondhand things being used from airplanes to cars, to all electronic and electric equipments.

[00:11:15] Kaustubh Thapa: Uh, about 50% of new phone, all phones used in Nigeria are secondhand. So this is really also an opportunity to ship. Functional and durable, secondhand items that can create benefit somewhere else. Uh, the bigger context of this is very unequal world where every European consumer can buy anything they want, most of them, uh, if they're needed.

[00:11:43] Kaustubh Thapa: But it might not be the case in Nigeria because of many reasons. And I think, uh, secondhand items are valuable in terms of. Creating equity in the access of access to technology, access to uh, uh, [00:12:00] apps or smartphones or computer literacy. But at the same time, there's a lot of problems associated with this.

[00:12:08] Gerry McGovern: I mean, as you say, uh, With the circular economy, et cetera. Um, secondhand reusable is a, is a great thing when you consider, uh, that how many million phones in Europe are sitting in a desk, you know, that are perfectly working, uh, in that, that somebody else could be using. So if the products were, you know, real, genuine quality and they were shipped in a way, That they don't break during, even if they are working, that they're shipped properly, they're inspected properly.

[00:12:45] Gerry McGovern: They're like, there's a market now, uh, in Europe and other countries for refurbished products. And those refurbished products, uh, te uh, tech products get tur testing, you know, before [00:13:00] they're put on sale as a refurbished actual product. So if, if we, as you point out, if this was done properly, We could genuinely improve the whole circularity of EL of electronics, but it needs to be done

[00:13:17] Kaustubh Thapa: properly.

[00:13:17] Kaustubh Thapa: Yes, exactly. That is one of the findings from our research. We kind of co-design a policy intervention with the experts in Nigeria. Thinking, okay, this has been a problem with secondhand devices, but also in flow of electronic waste illegally through the loop of secondhand device. So what can be done to boost circularity, to also, uh, make sure that injustices and exploitation doesn't happen?

[00:13:47] Kaustubh Thapa: And the idea, the solution at least, was quite simple. What we propose is instead of, uh, producers, Being responsible for management of electronic waste in their [00:14:00] own countries or in a specific region, they should be responsible globally. For instance, if, if a Apple product or Phillips from Netherlands goes to Nigeria, then.

[00:14:11] Kaustubh Thapa: No matter how many cycles of use and reuse has, has the product gone through Phillips or Apple or whoever manufactured the product should be responsible for a sound management of, uh, the waste of their product internationally. Uh, so instead of just focusing within Europe, we want to extend it globally.

[00:14:34] Kaustubh Thapa: And I think it's only fair if you consider. Justice and equity aspect of the circular economy, which, uh, sadly has been quite left out from the discourse of circular economy, social dimension, uh, international dimension. Justice equity. And for us, we think these are very important topics to be included. If we're talking about [00:15:00] transition that, uh, at a global, uh, European level, we need to think how the transition impacts people, not just within Europe, but globally.

[00:15:10] Kaustubh Thapa: And also to ha to make it fair and ethical and not just, uh, exploitative. Things has been since the eighties?

[00:15:19] Gerry McGovern: Well, I mean, what I've found from my researcher experience that those who will exploit other people will also exploit the environment. I mean, there, it's there. Wherever there is exploitation, the impacts.

[00:15:37] Gerry McGovern: Are many, you know, faceted in, in the process. So, uh, ethics and, and, and the environment. Everything is interlinked because those without ethics are lacking in ethics, are not going to care for the environment, and we're not going to get to a, a genuine. You know, [00:16:00] sustainable world if we don't have an ethical world, because part of why we have a linear economy is because we feel we can exploit weaker.

[00:16:10] Gerry McGovern: Weaker people and weaker animals, et cetera. There there's a sense that the strong can exploit the weak without any, uh, consequences. Uh, but we see that there are consequences for everybody now. In, in the climate crisis. Weak are strong.

[00:16:32] Kaustubh Thapa: Exactly. And since there's so much talk about transition and uh, doing things better and imagining a new world, I think.

[00:16:42] Kaustubh Thapa: We really need to incorporate these principles of fairness, equity, justice, ethical principles, accountability, while making, uh, these, uh, regulations. Because if you look at the wish [00:17:00] regulations, uh, wish shipment regulations in the EU are elsewhere such. Ideas are not the ethical consideration, uh, to focus on how can relationship between the actors in the waste value chain actually can be a symbiotic relationship or how people can enhance wellbeing of each other while.

[00:17:22] Kaustubh Thapa: Taking care of the waste. That is a much better world and more sustainable world than right now where you just focus on how can we just manage the waste at the cheapest cost to maximize profit and send it somewhere far away and not think about it. So, This is really an opportunity to do things right, and it starts at least from our research in waste governance to inter making intervention in policies and, uh, designing policies with consideration for other humans all around the world.

[00:17:55] Kaustubh Thapa: Like you said, also the environment to look at the interconnectedness [00:18:00] between people and planet as well.

[00:18:02] Gerry McGovern: Absolutely. So your research and ideas, you know, is, Ultimate producer responsibility that that, um, wherever that product ends up. It is the produce, is it is the brand's responsibility to, uh, make sure that it is properly, um, either recycled or, or, or got rid of, or, you know, that it's end of life, uh, does not damage either other people or, or other.

[00:18:39] Gerry McGovern: Or the environment, the water, the air in, in the process. So whether it's a Phillips or uh, an apple, uh, that phone or, or, or device is, is their responsibility, uh, no matter where physically that ends up. Exactly.

[00:18:58] Kaustubh Thapa: There's the basic [00:19:00] idea of pay principle. Uh, it has been operationalized in the eu, but it's limited within the confines of the eu.

[00:19:09] Kaustubh Thapa: That's why maybe it creates a loophole where you ship your secondhand products are soon to be e-waste things elsewhere so that the producers can get rid of the responsibility. But if. Make it universal. And if you make it ultimate in the sense that it applies to the ewes phase of a product, no matter where it is, uh, to the ult for the ultimate responsibility of, uh, sound management.

[00:19:40] Kaustubh Thapa: Such, uh, a lot of problems we believe, and, uh, 24 other people who co-designed this policy intervention belief could at least. Us way forward. Uh, yeah, I

[00:19:55] Gerry McGovern: think it's a brilliant idea. I think it's a quite simple, brilliant, I mean, [00:20:00] I, I think it'll be very difficult because the brands will obviously do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility, but I think it's, it sounds like, like a fantastic idea.

[00:20:14] Gerry McGovern: Uh, so. You know, it, it's got a powerful simplicity and as you say, it's, it's leading on from the polluter pays principle. So it's not a radically new concept, it's just making it a, giving it a, a universality or a global, um, reach. Yes,

[00:20:35] Kaustubh Thapa: definitely. And a lot of the sustainability. It does not have to be necessarily complex.

[00:20:42] Kaustubh Thapa: It's quite simple, straightforward solution. What is difficult is to operationalize it. We already had some feedback on the U P R principle that we proposed from some of the market players saying, oh, this is, this is never going to work. Uh, [00:21:00] you cannot include informal sector in the EEPs EEPs structure. So the.

[00:21:06] Kaustubh Thapa: The people who have been doing this for so many years, for 20, 25 years are not comfortable with expanding it, uh, bringing more actors to their, to their structure. We also propose that e p R should also include people who reuse, uh, uh, people who work. To repair, uh, to, to, to refurbish the products, not just recyclers and producers and the middleman.

[00:21:36] Kaustubh Thapa: We wanted to make it more inclusive so that it also includes, um, nonprofits and civil society organizations and this. People think, uh, this is a wrong way to approach the challenge because now we are creating space where it, the value system is not just money or profit maximization or efficiency, but also [00:22:00] solidarity and inclusion and equality and these kind of things sadly are not so, you know, comfortable for, uh, for still a lot of people.

[00:22:10] Kaustubh Thapa: And, uh, it's, uh, it's a testament how much. We need to change the whole, uh, political and economic system to include values like solidarity and ethics in our day-to-day life, and not just profit and money and, uh, you know, just, just this materialistic values.

[00:22:34] Gerry McGovern: Tell me a little, uh, a bit of a story or paint us a picture, so to speak, of what happens to.

[00:22:44] Gerry McGovern: A smartphone or a a, a laptop or, or otherwise, when it arrives, uh, in Nigeria, take me on. Its the rest of its life, so to speak. Let's say it gets. You know, maybe [00:23:00] used or repaired a bit, but, and then ultimately it's going to end up somewhere being stripped apart or somewhere. Can you take us, uh, on a little bit of a journey from when it arrives at, at that port in Nigeria, and let's assume that it is.

[00:23:18] Gerry McGovern: Maybe you can tell a couple of stories. One for something that is quite broke and what happens to it then, or maybe another story about something that is, it is working, but it's only going to last, you know, another year and a half. Just paint us a little bit of a picture of, of what ha who's involved, you know, Perhaps the dangers of that, the, of how they have to work and how they have to dismantle and et ceteras and what they're exposed to.

[00:23:50] Gerry McGovern: Bit of that picture from the port onwards where, where these electronic, uh, devices arrive.

[00:23:56] Kaustubh Thapa: So from a finding, we saw that [00:24:00] about one. Does not work. So they're, they're basically e-waste, which is not legal to ship from O C D countries, high rich countries to non O C D countries. And the narrative of e-waste is also different depending on whom you talk to.

[00:24:18] Kaustubh Thapa: If you talk to the government in Nigeria, They say, oh, the last time we had e-waste was in 2015 and it was taken care of. We sent it back, and we don't really have a problem of e-waste coming in. But if you, if you talk to people from the informal sector, but also from the formal sector, they acknowledge that there's a, there's a volume of secondhand products coming to Nigeria.

[00:24:44] Kaustubh Thapa: And part of the secondhand products is also electronic waste. This, this voice is also from the researchers in Nigeria, from from the nonprofit sector. So, so all the people, different stakeholders who, [00:25:00] uh, work with ewes say that ewes is a problem despite the government saying, oh, it's not a problem anymore.

[00:25:09] Kaustubh Thapa: So further, e-waste. What happens is if the government sees its electronic waste, they send it back to the origin country, which happens quite rarely, but then somehow if they don't notice it's electronic waste, then it goes to. The informal sector, uh, who maybe break down the phone or laptop into small parts and salv, whatever the parts are working, and maybe use that part to repair something else.

[00:25:44] Kaustubh Thapa: They can then maybe try to recycle or extract some copper wires or some valuable material. In the informal sector, it's, it's not very organized in the sense that there's no one factory where people go and [00:26:00] work. It's, it's organically. Organized within the informal sector, but, uh, we saw people without any protective equipments, uh, directly working with toxic electronics.

[00:26:15] Kaustubh Thapa: We didn't really see people burning wires, but people told us that people just go to at the site of the landfill and burn wires. So they're inhaling great toxic fumes to extract copper. And a lot of this electronic waste is ultimately being dumped in the landfill. Uh, and if you look at secondhand products, of course the value is quite added there, uh, in the sense that people reuse it, or the business people, they, they have shops, many shops where, and people who want to buy a second item can go and buy second nine item.

[00:26:55] Kaustubh Thapa: Uh, a reasonable price. Secondhand items [00:27:00] are also refurbished and just so that the product lasts for as long as possible. But, but again, all these things eventually become e-waste.

[00:27:12] Gerry McGovern: I saw a W H O, uh, world Health Organization, uh, report, I think it was estimating that something like 18 million women and 13 million children were involved in the e-waste indu industry, uh, on a global basis.

[00:27:30] Gerry McGovern: Would that be. Of your experience? Who, who is it that is scavenging and what, who is it that's pulling these things apart and, you know, dipping, dipping, uh, these, uh, chip, uh, boards into acid, to, to strip this and get, get out various materials. I mean, who, who is it that's doing this sort of,

[00:27:57] Kaustubh Thapa: Yeah, these are definitely the most [00:28:00] marginalized people whose daily livelihood depends on this kind of work.

[00:28:04] Kaustubh Thapa: Uh, just because they do not have an option to have other kinds of job. They engage in such work and this who, this is actually, uh, uh, case of exploitation because they need to have some work to make a living. Uh, and in that sense they are kind of forced to do this kind of work. And what we propose in the ultimate producer responsibility is to train these, uh, informal sector workers to ensure that at least the basic health and safety is, uh, They're, they're aware of what they're doing or may maybe limit their work for, uh, to just collection of electronic waste or other waste so that they don't have to really deal with, uh, toxic elements so that they can have a decent livelihood without exposing themselves to [00:29:00] harm day in and day out.

[00:29:02] Kaustubh Thapa: I didn't see a lot of children, uh, women. In Nigeria in electronic waste. Uh, but, but also I, I didn't get a chance to s observe people burning wires. Uh, I only went to the informal sector where they resale products. But, uh, when I visited recycling plants, uh, plastic recycling plants in Nigeria, I did see, uh, school is children just in the, in the inside.

[00:29:32] Kaustubh Thapa: Heap of waste without any equipment working next to the mother, because the more plastic you collect, uh, to recycle, the more money you get because it's, it's by wheat. So even the children, they skip school and they come help their mother out so that they can have some more money, uh, for the, for the day.

[00:29:57] Kaustubh Thapa: Uh, it's, it's not a very Yeah, it, [00:30:00] it's a very. It hits you when you are there. It's a different thing when you read a re report saying, la, la, la, la, la, la but when you're there and you see this, it, it really hits you.

[00:30:12] Gerry McGovern: Yeah, absolutely. And, and a point you made there that I kind of, I, I hadn't thought about, but in a way is that, you know, this, the job of an e-waste worker is probably the last job.

[00:30:26] Gerry McGovern: That you would want to take. It's, it's a kind of, it's, it's a, it's at the end of the line of, of the jobs that you would choose if you could choose a job in, in, in a town or an area in, in Nigeria or any other, uh, country because it is a, it's, it's an extremely dangerous, uh, job that, that pays very little money.

[00:30:52] Kaustubh Thapa: Exploitation happens when there's. Inequality in the trade or in the, in the [00:31:00] transaction. Right? Uh, so rich country versus poor country, uh, knowledgeable versus, Not so knowledgeable in the sense that ewas processing factories in Europe, they have all the knowledge to do the right thing, how to make it circular, sustainable, how to take deal with the toxic waste.

[00:31:20] Kaustubh Thapa: But the informal sector, and in uh, Nigeria, they don't know this and they don't have access to this knowledge. A lot of this is technology limited, and the technology is not even open sourced. Even if the waste is going to Nigeria, they'll never have access to technology because it's very expensive and it's not open source.

[00:31:44] Gerry McGovern: Um, un estimate, uh, that something like, uh, less than 20% of e-waste is properly recycled. And then I saw another study that said that even. That which is [00:32:00] recycled. We only get back about 30% of the materials that are reusable from the actual recycling process. I suppose part of that, if you know, We accept that that's true for the moment and may maybe you've, you, you've different information.

[00:32:19] Gerry McGovern: But I think it's, part of it is a design decision or a design process that we, if we are going to achieve genuine circularity, we must. Begin to change the way we design products so that we design them so that they can be taken apart, they can be disassembled, they can, the, the metals and the materials can be much more easily separated, uh, because.

[00:32:48] Gerry McGovern: Right now we see it seems like the big brands, whether they're Phillips or Samsung or Apple, are designing products that actually cannot be recycled properly or that [00:33:00] require such expensive equipment to separate the materials that the vast majority of. You know, poor countries could never afford that equipment or training to, to, and, and end up smashing them with hammers or burning them with buns on burners because, you know, the, the, the products are not designed in a way that there's a material simplicity within them that allows them to be recycled.

[00:33:27] Gerry McGovern: And we need to do that, I think. Or, or what do you think?

[00:33:31] Kaustubh Thapa: Of course. And, uh, recycling is even the further step. The first step should be product should be designed for reuse, for repair, for easy repair. When you talk to people in the informal sector during repairs, they were, they preferred the older generation computers, uh, where people could re replace their hard drives.

[00:33:54] Kaustubh Thapa: I remember growing up just replacing my hard. From, uh, [00:34:00] old low capacity desk to high capacity solid state desk. I used to do it myself, no problem. Half an hour and some minus basic tools, but now things are designed so that it's single use. When it doesn't work, it has to be taken to, to the factory. And for instance, apple product in Nigeria, chances are it's very hard to repair them.

[00:34:29] Kaustubh Thapa: And I think, uh, to make it more circular and sustainable, such products should be designed in a more simplistic way, but also knowledge how to design should be open source. Uh, anybody should be able to repair the phone if they wanted to, or upgrade a phone if they wanted to. And then the recycling, of course, it's, it's very, the whole recycling sector is, uh, quite, uh, mysterious in the sense that nobody [00:35:00] knows what person is recycled.

[00:35:02] Kaustubh Thapa: The non non-profits, the activists organization they have, they say, Very Lopez and just recycled the industry. Say, oh no, we, it's a success story. We've recycled so much, but the conversation is very fake. There's no specificity, so it's very hard to understand what happens. When the products are recycled, unless you really go to a factory and really focus on the context and not generalize it, it's, it's very difficult to know what happens.

[00:35:35] Kaustubh Thapa: And, uh, it's, it is the same, not just with, uh, electronic waste, but all with plastics, with rubber tires, with, yeah, it's, it's the whole value chain. Not transparent, not accountable because it lacks the principles of justice and ethics and accountability and, uh, symbiosis of, uh, actors to create a [00:36:00] wellbeing environment and more transparent things.

[00:36:03] Kaustubh Thapa: So, so it's a, it's a, the whole value chain is a mess and. It is, it is, it is a mess. And it, it should not be the case. It can be ma made better, but, uh, nobody

[00:36:16] Gerry McGovern: cares. And I suppose part of that, as you said, uh, the value change, the, the essence of this value chain is that there's no value in waste or there's very little value in the, the product.

[00:36:30] Gerry McGovern: I mean, it starts off as a an 800 euro phone. You know and makes lots of money for Apple, but then it ends up being hardly worth doing ing with that. You have to send it, you know, to a poor country with people working for next to nothing, to actually get some value back out of that, that product that has, that has died, that we need to begin to return [00:37:00] value.

[00:37:01] Gerry McGovern: To the end of life process. Uh, and that will take a, a rethinking of materials, uh, and, and how those materials are actually put together so that they can be taken apart. But, but right now it is a, I think it's a mess because there's no money. In the end of life or there's very little money to be made in the end of life.

[00:37:28] Kaustubh Thapa: Yeah, it is sadly the case. Uh, we do not factor in the social and ecological harm that goes in, in the designing phase of a product resources extraction and making the crude material into a usable resource and also the waste space. What is only accounted for is money. And if you look at just from a monetary point of view, then of course using this, uh, extracting [00:38:00] resources from Earth is a lot cheaper, uh, than trying to solve this problem of ewes and, uh, making sure that you extract all values from electronic waste in a circular and sustainable manner.

[00:38:16] Kaustubh Thapa: Uh, but. We don't value ecosystem. We don't value justice, uh, human health, uh, solidarity, uh, good relationships between country, uh, uh, so sociopolitical system where there's no exploitation. If we, if we were to value those kind of things, non-material, non-tangible values, then of course, uh, tomorrow, all c.

[00:38:43] Kaustubh Thapa: Really push, uh, more circular option and more sustainable option. But sadly, it's, it's every value system is boiled down to money. And, uh, profit maximization really hinders equity and justice and solidarity and just seeing [00:39:00] other people as humans.

[00:39:02] Gerry McGovern: We need to value, uh, materials as well. That, that, uh, in 1970 we were digging out, uh, of the planet 25 billion tons of materials.

[00:39:14] Gerry McGovern: Uh, by 2020. It was a hundred billion tons. And to get to our green. Tech clean world, they estimate will be needing to dig out 170 billion tons of material by 2050. And the mass of Mount Everest is 150 billion tons of material. So to, to build our wonderful tech future green and sustainable or, or, or so they call it.

[00:39:43] Gerry McGovern: We need to be extracting Mount Everest every year. And we, and that's because we don't value the materials at all results. We, we design products for waste. And we must, I think this your concept of [00:40:00] ultimate producer responsibility, but I think it's, it's not just a responsibility. Well, what does that mean?

[00:40:06] Gerry McGovern: What is the responsibility? And I think part of the responsibility should be that all the material. They're responsible for in, in, if they've got 60 materials in that phone, they need to be able to get back those 60 materials. And I think that would transform thinking by brands and manufacturers if they were actually responsible for maintaining the life of the material.

[00:40:37] Gerry McGovern: I'm giving it an ex life.

[00:40:39] Kaustubh Thapa: Exactly. That, that's very true. Uh, so my PhD started as circular economy, more focused and material reuse, recycled refurbished to extend them value of materials for as long as possible. And in the four years of my research, then it. [00:41:00] Yes, this is a great idea, but as long as put value to human and environment, you can just do this with material.

[00:41:10] Kaustubh Thapa: So you, you have to like focus, like we talked before in the interrelationship, interdependency of. Humans environment and the environment nature that gives us material in order to, uh, really be sustainable. Uh, so I, I think to value material, you need to value human and environment. And to value human and environment, you need to value material.

[00:41:37] Kaustubh Thapa: It, it all goes together. And part of our research, uh, looking at the plastic waste, we propose an ecocentric approach to, uh, designing policy. You harmonize relationship between individuals, society and nature, including the material. Really, you, you, you make sure that [00:42:00] the interaction between these three does not create mutual harm, uh, as much as possible.

[00:42:06] Kaustubh Thapa: So, so this change, change in mind shift where you value everything and you see the interconnectedness of things. Uh, it's, it's, it's very hard to do. So to look at this broader interconnection, if you just focus on one aspect, one material, uh, money or green growth. Uh, but, but yeah, we need to change, uh, our paradigms, what we value as well.

[00:42:35] Kaustubh Thapa: If you want, you know, and this discussion is far bigger than secondhand items in electronic waste, but, Yeah, you need to have different value systems if you wanna fix problems.

[00:42:49] Gerry McGovern: Yeah. And I think you've, you've summarized it very well, the, the interconnected. You know, of everything. And [00:43:00] even though that, that's obviously complex, uh, to, to deal with, we must deal with the interrelationships, the, the materials, the people, the environment, uh, All of them must work in a certain type of harmony, and that to value, as you say, to value the materials, we must value the environment.

[00:43:22] Gerry McGovern: We must value the people and the animals that exist within that environment and people. Or capitalist or whatever, you know, would say, oh, that's ridiculous, thinking. You're not being serious, or you're not, you're not, you're not being realistic in the world yet. I think in, in many ways, that is the much wiser approach to.

[00:43:50] Gerry McGovern: Having a planet that we can actually live on in, in 50 years or a hundred years. Cause certainly the model that's been used today that has [00:44:00] brought us to the climate crisis is unlikely. The model that is going to get us outta the climate crisis from

[00:44:07] Kaustubh Thapa: four years of research. And the main takeaway for me at this personal reflection is everything is centered around, uh, creating a value.

[00:44:20] Kaustubh Thapa: That is mostly measured by economic growth or profit, but in order to be sustainable, there are other values that somehow we don't include. And part of the research design for the whole project was to value collaboration, value, diversity of ideas and epistomology issues so that. Find multiple solution to a problem and then like, it's, it's something that I try to do it in my day-to-day life and in work and in, uh, non-work related things to, to create this plurality of values so that I'm not [00:45:00] only making decisions based on.

[00:45:02] Kaustubh Thapa: One specific value that may or may not be sustainable. So, so to to, to look at bigger picture and not just, uh, one thing, but, uh, that, like we said, the interconnectedness of, uh, everything, it's, it's quite necessary.

[00:45:22] Gerry McGovern: If you're interested in these sorts of ideas, please check out my book, worldwide Waste at jerry McGovern dot.

[00:45:30] Gerry McGovern: To hear other interesting podcasts, please visit. This is

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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