The Problem of E-Waste

Every two years, many people’s phones suddenly upgrade with 30 new cameras, 10 new colors, and automated technology. So, what happens with their old phones? Some participate in a trade-in program, some sell it on eBay, but most throw it away either in the trash or a hidden place in their garage. Technology has become essential in the modern world, and it is only continuing to integrate into every aspect of our lives. From our cell phones to smart homes, it’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t been affected by electronics in some way or form. However, the usage span of these devices is declining, causing many “old” devices to be thrown away just to be replaced with a new one that is only slightly more efficient. With the growing demand in the technological industry, companies often disregard the gruesome environmental impact they bring upon the world. Since the demand is increasing, the prices are decreasing. Now, half of all households in the world have internet access and 7.7 billion people have cell phones. This, of course, is a statistic to be celebrated, as more people can now be more educated and connected than ever. That being said, this calls for us to be proactive in minimizing its effect on the world. 

Image by Fabian Grohs

What's E-Waste?

E -waste is electronic waste ranging from air pods to projectors. The average device is composed of gold, silver, lithium, platinum, palladium, and more valuable elements. These materials can be reclaimed upon recycling, but most of them are not even given the chance for examination. Up to 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated annually, and only 20% of it is properly recovered. Nobody would throw away gold or silver blindly, but people dispose of devices valuing $64.6 billion in recoverable materials. These aren’t the only aspects electronics are comprised of: toxic metals such as lead, cadmium, PVC plastic, and beryllium are also included among others.

Image by NASA

How Widespread Is It?

Technology has become an essential in the modern world, and it is only continuing to integrate into every aspect of our lives. From our cell phones to smart homes, it’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t been affected by electronics in some way or form. However, the usage span of these devices is declining, causing many “old” devices to be thrown away just to be replaced with a new one that is only slightly more efficient. With the growing demand in the technological industry, companies often disregard the gruesome environmental impact they bring upon the world. Since the demand is increasing, the prices are decreasing. Now, half of all households in the world have internet access and 7.7 billion people have cell phones. 

Landfill Management
Image by Alex Plesovskich

Who Gets Harmed?

Men and women in third world countries recover valuable materials by dismantling devices by hand and burning away the non-valuable materials. Mercury and acids are used to recover the gold and pose many hazards. Informal recycling has many security risks, because it does not require wiping devices clear of data like US recyclers do. Also, the hazardous components in electronics, which are extremely detrimental to health and the environment, are dumped into landfills where toxic chemicals can end up contaminating the water supply and destroy ecosystems.

Image by Hải Thanh
Image by Ivan Bandura

Formal vs. Informal E-Recycling

E-recycling is practiced both informally and formally. The formal side of it consists of fully disassembling the electronics, categorizing their contents by material, and then cleaning them. The items are further sorted by shredding with advanced technologies under careful health and safety guidelines for workers to minimize environmental hazards of handling this waste. With all the pollution control procedures and careful inspection of these devices, formal recycling can add up to a large price tag. Consequently, several companies and countries illegally export their e-waste to developing countries where informal recycling is practiced.

Image by Dan Meyers
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What Can Be Done?

When companies sell away electronics to undergo this process, they don’t do it out of their care for the environment. When you sell your cracked iPhone 5s to “ecoATMs,” you indirectly contribute to this malpractice. 

At ElectroCycle, we collect your electronics and optimize its condition for recycling. Instead of going to third-world countries, they will be repurposed in trusted recycling facilities which value ethics, safety, and sustainability. We make the your contribution worthy and uphold your values. 

Image by Morning Brew