Are you due for a phone upgrade?
Looking to replace your old air conditioner before the weather starts to heat up?
Many of our devices have a lifespan of just four to seven years, meaning we’ll have to replace them numerous times throughout our lives. But what do we do with our phones, computers, and appliances when we no longer need them?
The truth is, most electronics wind up in a landfill once they’ve stopped serving their purpose. The terms e-waste, e-scrap, and end-of-life electronics are often used to refer to these electronics that are past their prime.
E-waste is quickly becoming a huge problem for the global environment. In the U.S. alone, more than 150 million phones end up in landfills every year. That’s over 400,000 each day!
And with electronics becoming more and more accessible, these numbers only stand to increase in the years to come. Read on to learn more about e-waste and how you can do your part to reduce its impact on the health of people and the planet.
Why is e-waste getting worse?
Take a moment to imagine the Great Wall of China.
Standing as the heaviest human construction of all time, it stretches over 13,000 miles. In 2021, humans generated enough e-waste to outweigh this immense structure, amounting to almost 57 million metric tonnes (MT). That number is expected to increase to 74 MT by 2030 and could double by 2050.
What’s causing this massive increase in technological waste?
Two reasons suggested by nonprofit tech support enterprise Human-I-T are the growth of income and the availability of electronics in low and middle income countries. Products like e-cigarettes and electric vehicles that were previously unattainable in these communities have become increasingly more accessible.
With more people accessing and buying devices, the overall contribution of e-waste to landfills, incinerators, and lackluster recycling facilities has also increased, growing at practically three times the rate of other waste streams.
How does e-waste affect the environment?
E-waste contains a number of toxic materials including lead, cadmium, beryllium, and mercury. If not disposed of with care, these chemicals stand to harm both the workers exposed to them and the surrounding environment. The products of e-waste impact four major areas of the environment: air, water, soil, and wildlife.
The process of shredding, burning, or otherwise dismantling e-waste often releases dust and toxic particles into the air. In particular, urning plastic can damage the respiratory health of workers and communities living in areas around the processing plants.
Similarly, e-waste left to rot in landfills secretes harmful chemicals into the ground. Once the chemicals have infiltrated waterways and underground water tables, the contamination quickly spreads throughout the surrounding area.
Many communities may rely on contaminated water not only for drinking, but also to water crops. The chemicals in the water seep into the soil, poisoning or otherwise harming current and future harvests.
Wildlife is also impacted by the spread of hazardous materials. As chemicals, acid, and heavy metals permeate the environment, they can kill entire populations of organisms. This negatively impacts biodiversity and could change the ecosystem drastically, allowing pests that were previously held at bay by predators to take over.
It’s also important to note that electronics contain non-renewable resources like gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminum, and cobalt. Carelessly tossing away devices without taking the time to recycle these valuable materials means we may be losing precious resources that will not replenish in our lifetimes.
Stopping the e-waste stream
Currently, only 15% of e-waste is responsibly recycled in the United States, with that number increasing to 17.4% on the global scale. However, some organizations like Human-I-T are taking action to encourage reusing and recycling electronic devices.
Tech waste recycling company Recycle Global Exchange (RGX) has created a platform to help businesses find better ways to dispose ofe-waste. The RGX platform is the first end-to-end agnostic solution that connects e-waste vendors to corporate clients.
Not only do corporations cut their shipping costs by working with local vendors they might not have otherwise seen, but they also stimulate local economies.
The National History Museum recommends these four steps for businesses and consumers to help slow the the increase in e-waste:
- Delay tech upgrades as long as you can. Consider whether or not you truly need the newest device. Does your current model adequately perform your necessary tasks?
- Reuse whenever possible. Donate devices that are still working to those in need or even give them away to a friend.
- Return devices to the manufacturer. Some companies like Amazon offer programs that allow customers to return their old devices to be reused or recycled before purchasing a replacement.
- Dispose of items at dedicated e-waste facilities. If there is no way to reuse your device, try to find a local and reliable e-waste facility that can dispose of it properly. RecycleNow is a great resource for locating facilities near you.
Electronics have become an integral part of our everyday lives. It’s important for every device owner, whether at the corporate or consumer level, to take responsibility for their waste and its potential impact on the health of our planet and those inhabiting it.
We encourage all business owners to look into proper e-waste disposal and consider offering recycling plans to customers. On the other hand, customers may want to hold companies to a high standard and steer purchases toward those making use of sustainable resources.