Over the past two months, Apple, Google and Samsung have all unveiled their new smartphones and other devices in a bid to get consumers to upgrade ahead of the holidays. But in the process, these companies and others may also be making a growing problem worse: e-waste.
The limited lifespan of many tech gadgets, combined with few options for repairing older devices, has increased the problem of e-waste over the years. The United Nations Data indicates that the world generated 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2019, of which only 17.4% was recycled.
Friday marks International E-waste Day, an annual opportunity to reflect on the impacts of e-waste and do more to fix or recycle it. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE) Forum, a Brussels-based nonprofit that has spearheaded the event since 2018, said this year the focus is on action with small electronic waste that many people might unwittingly accumulate, including your old cell phone, earphones, remote controls and computer mouse.
“People tend not to realize that all of these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and together on a global level represent huge volumes,” Pascal Leroy, managing director of the WEEE Forum, said in a statement.
The issue of e-waste goes far beyond simply cleaning up space in your junk drawers.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency large swaths of electronic waste are shipped to developing countries that do not have the capacity to reject these imports or the infrastructure to recycle them safely. The World Health Organization has also warned that children, with their tiny hands, are often used to sift through mountains of e-waste in developing countries in search of valuable elements such as copper, silver, palladium and more. The WHO said more than 18 million children are exposed to a range of negative health impacts when engaging in this informal e-waste industry.
Here are some steps you can take with the phones, laptops, and chargers you’ve put away at home to ease the burden of e-waste.
If you live in an area that offers e-waste disposal services (either through specific pick-up dates or at a drop-off location), experts say this is one of the easiest and more intuitive to clean up old gadgets.
Various coalitions have emerged in recent years to empower consumers to dispose of their devices responsibly. The e-Stewards Group and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International each to offer online tools to find recycling centers they have certified.
The collective impact of recycling e-waste can be staggering. For every million cell phones recycled, says the EPA 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
But not all municipalities in the United States offer infrastructure for recycling e-waste.
If you can’t find a recycling center nearby, a growing list of major retailers — including Staples and Best Buy — also have programs that allow customers to bring in e-waste for recycling. And many producers, including Apple
(AAPL), have programs that offer credits or free recycling in exchange for taking back used gadgets. Google
(GOOG)for example, offers a possibility to request a free shipping label mail out some used gadgets and electronics for recycling.
Environmental advocates say the most important step in tackling the growing e-waste problem is to simply try to use your electronics for as long as possible. In some ways, it’s getting easier than ever.
While tech makers have been criticized for their tactics to upgrade you, policymakers have recently passed changes to urge companies to make it easier for customers to repair consumer electronics and support the rise of the consumer electronics movement. right to reparation.
Earlier this year, Apple and Samsung launched their self-service repair stores, offering parts to users looking for do-it-yourself repairs for their smartphones. Google also announced that it offer genuine Pixel parts for do-it-yourselfers in an online store this year.