Do you ever think about how frequently you upgrade your cellphone? Why hang on to that outdated iPhone 9 when the new and improved iPhone 11 is within reach? The temptation to buy into these latest and greatest digital trends has been increasing steadily for quite a few years. Today, the average American keeps a cellphone for no longer than 18 months. In most cases, it seems like it would actually cost us more to fix our broken devices than to trash them and purchase newer models. So, naturally, that’s what we do. And we’re all guilty of falling into this cycle of buying, trashing and upgrading.
But do you ever wonder what happens to your discarded electronics or how our culture of constant upgrading is impacting the world around us? Probably not.
If you’re not already familiar with the terms “e-waste” or “techno-trash,” they are short for “electronic waste” and “technological trash.” These two terms cover a wide variety of discarded products from large household appliances to small electronic devices. Some common products include irons, kettles, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, washers and dryers, heaters, televisions and PC screens. But the list certainly goes on.
Sadly, only 20% of our global electronic waste is properly recycled. On a global scale, we discard approximately 50 million tons of e-waste annually. This is equivalent to over 4,500 Eiffel Towers. To make matters worse, the amount of global e-waste is expected to increase by 3 to 4% every year. The majority of this will end up in landfills.
So, what’s the big deal? Why should we care about what happens to all this stuff after we’ve tossed it?
Waste such as televisions, computers and other electronic appliances contain a pretty long list of hazardous substances, including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, PVC, and lead. Over time, these toxins leach into the soil and groundwater, becoming environmental hazards. In many cases, these products end up in landfills overseas, where the unsafe treatment through open burning poses significant risks to the environment and human health. They also present numerous challenges to sustainable development.
However, did you know that approximately 60 elements from the periodic table can be found in electronics, and many of them could be recoverable? E-waste contains precious metals including gold, silver, copper and platinum, as well as iron and aluminum. The recovery of metals from E-waste has now become an important focus worldwide – both for its environmental and economic benefits.
So next time you’re looking to upgrade your computer or iPhone, don’t send the old one to a landfill. Instead, drop it off at your nearest recycling spot to ensure it is properly disposed of. That way, we’re all working together to make sure all the precious metals and resources get recycled and reused.