The solution to e-waste is not recycling, it is you
As electronic waste (e-waste) has continued to grow exponentially so has the spotlight on it, and the fact that this is indeed a world crisis. Countries around the world have put together statistics showing how e-waste is a serious problem, and the United States is no exception.
The EPA noted that e-waste represents the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the US, and although it constitutes only 2% of the US landfills, it represents 70% of the overall toxic waste1. Globally, as noted by the United Nations, in 2019, over 50 million metric tons of e-waste was discarded.
With the significant amount of chemicals that can contaminate the environment if e-waste is not properly handled, recycling and proper disposal has become an important solution in fighting this ongoing crisis. Ironically, recycling of e-waste has also become an issue. Recycling companies and campaigns to spread the importance may have popped up over the years, but only 20% of the e-waste is actually properly documented and recycled2.
E-waste is obviously donated or recycled with the assumption that these devices are going to end up in the hands of the less fortunate. But according to a study conducted by the Basel Action Network, it was found that 40 percent of the e-waste that was to be recycled in the US ended up going to developing countries which lacked proper regulations when it came to recycling practices3.
These devices can be very valuable as 1 million cell phones can contain up to 35,724 lbs of copper and 75 lbs of gold4. Due to the value of what can be “mined” from these devices, these recyclers will try to extract these metals through improper practices such as by submerging parts in hydrochloric and nitric acid which lead to poisoning of the water supplies.
Therefore, the true solution to e-waste prevention starts before you decide how to throw away your device. It all starts from the moment you decide that you need to replace or get a new device. Go through these simple steps when deciding to buy a device.
1) Make sure the new device can really do much more than your current device
We always want to buy that new device because it is the “new shiny thing”, but in all reality, the benefits are often minimal in terms of the amount of improved productivity or capabilities when moving from one device generation to the next.
2) Try to repair or enhance your current device
If your device is broken, try taking it to a repair store and getting it fixed. If your machine is lacking in performance, see if you can add memory or switch out a component for a better one.
3) Leverage cloud options which can virtualize your experience
Virtualization has continued to improve with technology and the speed of the internet. You can enhance your device by merely leveraging the high-performance computers in the cloud without having to worry about how good your computer is. Upgrades are as simple as a click of a button.
4) If you can’t use your device, donate it to charity
Just like with any other object, there will always be someone else who is less fortunate that can use your device. There are a number of charities who are now refurbishing and distributing devices properly to those in need.
5) Buy a second-hand product or a high-performance product that you know will last
Buying a quality refurbished device has never been easier with most companies like Amazon, Best Buy, and even Apple offering devices that are certified. If you have to buy new, make sure that you are buying something that is not going to be outdated or not supported in a matter of months. You may need to spend a little extra up-front, but it will definitely be a better decision in the long run.
The solution to every problem should always focus on the start or beginning, and the solution to reducing e-waste starts with you. Change is never easy for anyone, but with a few small steps, we can all make a difference in making the world a better place.
1 Slade, Giles. "iWaste." Mother Jones, 2007. Web Accessed April 11, 2015.
2 UN Environment Programme. "UN Report: Time to Seize Opportunity, Tackle Challenge of E-Waste." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.
4 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Wastes - Resource Conservation - Common Wastes & Materials - eCycling." Web Accessed April 11, 2015.