Protection of our Environment

Proposal 13

Include "Waste from Electrical and Electronical Equipment" (WEEE), other waste products, and the environmental impacts of mining for rare earth minerals and metals used in electronical equipment in the “Zero pollution action plan”.


Detailed explanation

In addition to the current 5G technology rollout with huge amounts of cables and antennas the introduction of billions of 5G-connected wireless devices (clothes, nappies, household appliances, watches, blinds) into our daily lives will expand consumerism, technological obsolescence and electronic waste that is difficult to recycle. European citizens have not been involved in the decisions taken to push this resource intensive new technology, or asked if this is the way we want our society to go forward. According to the Aarhus convention EU citizens have a right to public participation in environmental decision-making processes.

According to Needhidasan, S., et al. Electronic waste–an emerging threat to the environment of urban India "every smartphone includes 1000+ substances, each with its own energy-intensive, toxic waste-emitting supply chain."

The environmental footprint of digitalization has to be reduced. The environmental costs of “upgrading” to a new device or a new program which often requires a new computer and new peripherals, each with embodied energy and toxins, is too high.

Manufacturers must prioritize safer chemicals and environmental protections over profit and products with built-in recycling and repairability and that allow easy, fire-proof battery replacement.

As an example: A YouTube video uses 24-60 images per second plus sound. A 30-second video typically requires more data and uses more energy than a 3MB photo. Therefore, limit videos and large photos for special occasions.

Citations regarding greenhouse gasses emissions (GHGE):

According to Lotfi Belkhir and Ahmed Elmeligi, 2018 in Journal of Cleaner production Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations they have found that: “if unchecked, ICT GHGE relative contribution could grow from roughly 1–1.6% in 2007 to exceed 14% of the 2016-level worldwide GHGE by 2040, accounting for more than half of the current relative contribution of the whole transportation sector. Our study also highlights the contribution of smart phones and shows that by 2020, the footprint of smart phones alone would surpass the individual contribution of desktops, laptops and displays.

Katie Singer in Behind Our Screens: "Before its end-user turns a smartphone (or any computer) on for the first time, robotic machines must design it. Miners must extract ores. The ores must be washed, then shipped to smelters. Refined materials and manufactured solvents and bent plastics must be transported to assembly plants. Packaging must be designed and built. The final product must be transported to its end-user.
Each station in this international supply chain
consumes energy and emits greenhouse gases (GHGs) and toxic waste. Miners and assembly workers often endure hazardous conditions. Rivers and lakes get polluted by “tailings” (emissions from refining ores). Oceans get acidified by cargo ships’ bunker fuel." Note: many rare earth minerals are found near radioactive material.

The OECD Report from 2018 Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060 recognizes the role of digitization in the exponential increase in extracted resources (rare earth minerals and metals). The report projects a doubling of global primary materials use between today and 2060. It would also increase water pollution and depletion, habitat destruction, deforestation, and droughts, impacts on flora/fauna and human health.
"More than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are related to materials management activities. Fossil fuel use and the production of iron & steel and construction materials lead to large energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Metals extraction and use have a wide range of polluting consequences, including toxic effects on humans and ecosystems. The extraction and use of primary (raw) materials is much more polluting than secondary (recycled) materials".

Despite ongoing efficiency improvements that reduce environmental impacts per unit of production, the global environmental impacts of using these metals are projected to more than double and, in some cases, even quadruple by 2060. This analysis excludes impacts during the use phase, as these are highly product-specific. In general, copper and nickel tend to have the greatest per-kilo environmental impacts, while iron and steel have the highest absolute environmental impacts due to the large volumes used.

Citations from the Institute for energy research The Environmental Impact of Lithium Batteries November 12, 2020:

"In May 2016, dead fish were found in the waters of the Liqi River, where a toxic chemical leaked from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine. Cow and yak carcasses were also found floating downstream, dead from drinking contaminated water. It was the third incident in seven years due to a sharp increase in mining activity, including operations run by China’s BYD, one of the world’ biggest supplier of lithium-ion batteries. After the second incident in 2013, officials closed the mine, but fish started dying again when it reopened in April 2016."

"South America’s Lithium Triangle, which covers parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, holds more than half the world’s supply of the metal beneath its salt flats. But it is also one of the driest places on earth. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed 65 percent of the region’s water, which is having a large impact on local farmers to the point that some communities have to get water elsewhere."

"As in Tibet, there is the potential for toxic chemicals to leak from the evaporation pools into the water supply including hydrochloric acid, which is used in the processing of lithium, and waste products that are filtered out of the brine. In Australia and North America, lithium is mined from rock using chemicals to extract it into a useful form. In Nevada, researchers found impacts on fish as far as 150 miles downstream from a lithium processing operation."

"Lithium extraction harms the soil and causes air contamination. In Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto, residents believe that lithium operations contaminated streams used by humans and livestock and for crop irrigation. In Chile, the landscape is marred by mountains of discarded salt and canals filled with contaminated water with an unnatural blue hue. According to Guillermo Gonzalez, a lithium battery expert from the University of Chile, 'This isn’t a green solution – it’s not a solution at all.'"

"China is among the five top countries with the most lithium resources and it has been buying stakes in mining operations in Australia and South America where most of the world’s lithium reserves are found. China’s Tianqi Lithium owns 51 percent of the world’s largest lithium reserve in Australia, giving it a controlling interest. In 2018, the company became the second-largest shareholder in Sociedad Química y Minera—the largest lithium producer in Chile. Another Chinese company, Ganfeng Lithium, has a long-term agreement to underwrite all lithium raw materials produced by Australia’s Mount Marion mine—the world’s second-biggest, high-grade lithium reserve."

Citations from the article “Lithium: Tibet's green energy treasure”

"Green transport in one place should not come at the cost of environmental and social damage in another. For the people of Tibet, this is a real threat with the extraction of lithium for use in electric buses."

"Tibetans have no say over China’s lithium extraction and see none of its benefits. What they have seen is pollution and the build-up of factories and other infrastructure across Tibet’s once pristine landscape."

"The two principal methods of extracting lithium, brine harvesting from lakes and hard rock mining, both carry risks of environmental and social damage due to the toxic chemicals required. The Ganhetan industrial zone, for example, is well-known among Chinese scientific investigators for its air pollution, which has been accompanied by increased rates of fluorosis, a disease that causes teeth to become brittle. High concentrations of toxic metals in the soil have made the surrounding area unsuitable for agriculture."

"Toxic chemicals used by the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium in Dartsedo, eastern Tibet, have found their way ito the Lichu River on more than one occasion, killing fish and farm animals belonging to the community of Minyak Lhagang. After one such leak, in April 2016, the residents of Dartsedo County defied a large police presence to protest to the local government, securing a temporary halt to the extraction."

Amit Katwala writes in “The devastating environmental impact of technological progress” from 2019:

"An insatiable demand for the copper, lithium and rare-earth metals required to fuel the consumer electronics and electric vehicle industries is leaving indelible scars on our fragile planet."

"For decades, David Maisel has been photographing places where humans are changing the environment so dramatically that the impact can be seen from the sky. For his latest project, Desolation Desert, the San Francisco-based visual artist spent two weeks in and around South America's Atacama desert, where humankind’s insatiable demand for copper, lithium and rare-earth metals to fuel the consumer electronics and electric vehicle industries is reshaping the landscape of a fragile ecosystem."

"You can’t assess the full environmental impact of mining just by looking at the hole left in the ground. These pictures show the area around the Centinela copper mine, and the huge “tailings ponds” that surround the site. After the copper is separated from rock, the unwanted materials remain in the form of this slurry, collected in pools hemmed in by dams that Maisel describes as “vast beyond comprehension”. Tailings, as they’re known in the industry, can contain toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury. In January 2019, a tailings dam at an iron-ore mine in Brazil collapsed, killing at least 248 people. As of June 2019, the tailings facilities at the mine pictured here held 154 million cubic metres of tailings."

French expert in responsible digital technology and low-tech, Frédéric Bordage writes in his study Environmental footprint of the digital world :

"The idea of a low digital technology is to use robust, simple, low-impact and very widespread digital technologies such as 2G, SMS, etc. to meet daily needs. Most feedback gathered over the last 10 years shows that this approach is not considered as a regression but is instead well-received by users and it creates economic value.
Radical eco-design aims to coordinate the use of low- and high-tech digital resources to best meet the needs of humanity while significantly reducing our digital footprint. To conclude with a simple example, it is not necessary to have a latest-generation smartphone connected in 4G or 5G to access weather forecasts. A simple SMS allows the forecast to be transmitted on a 2G mobile phone. On the other hand, calculating weather forecasts requires the use of advanced technologies. Only by adopting this posture of sobriety and cleverly coordinating low and high digital technology will we be able to build a more enviable digital future and make it an effective tool for improving humanity’s resilience to the already on-going collapse.
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Legal arguments for our proposal are:

  • Article 191(1) and (3) and Article 192(1) TFEU give the EU competence to take action in order to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment.
  • Environmental policy and legislation in this field shall be based on the precautionary principle and the principle that preventive action should be taken, as laid down in Article 191(2) subparagraph 2 and Article 192(1) TFEU. In accordance with Article 191(3) TFEU, when preparing its policy and legislation on the environment, the EU shall take into account available scientific and technical data.
  • (Compassion in world farming) Since animals are sentient beings, Article 13 TFEU provides that "in formulating and implementing the Union’s policies on agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space, the Union shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals".
    The EU Commission explains that “This puts animal welfare on equal footing with other key principles mentioned in the same title i.e. promotion of gender equality, guarantee of social protection, protection of human health, combating discrimination, promotion of sustainable development, ensuring consumer protection and the protection of personal data”. This provision is important in two respects:* it recognises animals as “sentient beings”; and* it requires the Union and its Member States, in (i) formulating and (ii) implementing the Union’s policies in certain key areas, to pay “full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”
  • Article 21 (f) of the TEU: "help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development
  • Article 3 of the TEU, where "The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.
  • Article 35 of the CFR, Health care: "A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities.
  • Article 37 of the CFR, Environmental protection: "A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.
  • According to the Aarhus convention EU citizens have a right to ensure that the most up-to-date scientific data is taken into account when the EU adopts policies for the protection of the environment. Citizens have a right to access environmental information, to public participation in environmental decision-making processes and to access to justice.
  • According to Proposal for a regulation on amending Aarhus regulationThe EU institutions need to engage with members of the public if the European Green Deal is to succeed and deliver lasting change. The public is and should remain a driving force of the transition and should have the means to get actively involved in developing and implementing new policies.””
  • Habitat Directive
  • Bird Directive
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WEEE sculpture in Belfast, by Colin H McKnight, is made from old electrical goods and is intended to highlight “Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment”.
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