Decades of tech sector pressure to “innovate or die” has resulted in a long list of useful and flashy home tech products, but many of these same devices also need to be replaced at roughly the same rapid rate at which new technology is emerging.
“Planned obsolescence is making it worse. People now expect to get a new computer every three or four years, and a new phone every two years,” said Jim Bucket, executive director of Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based e-waste monitoring organization. Collection. “It’s a mountain that keeps growing.”
Furthermore, the World Health Organization has warned that there are more than 18 million children and adolescents “actively participating” in the informal e-waste treatment industry. The World Health Organization said children and teenagers are often used to dig up mountains of e-waste in search of precious materials such as copper and gold “because their little hands are more ingenious than those of adults”.
Beckett said the e-waste issue “is all about environmental justice at the global level.” It is about preventing rich countries from dumping their waste and dirty technology on developing countries.
The growing environmental crisis is now drawing the attention of lawmakers from Europe to the United States, as well as communities in developing nations where e-waste has historically been transported overseas.
European Union officials last month approved a new law requiring all phones and electronic devices to use an unfamiliar brand standard charger, with the potential to limit the number of different wires the average consumer needs to own. In a letter, three American progressive lawmakers urged the United States to do the same.
Currently, though, regulations regarding e-waste are mainly found at the state level and there are few Signs of federal policy moving forward in the near future. In his absence, the onus remains on consumers – and businesses – to take the lead and find better ways to deal with old electronics.
What consumers and businesses can do about it
When Corey Demi worked in corporate IT departments, he had To find out what to do with hundreds of company computers that are no longer up to date. Now, as executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable Electronics Recycling Organization (SERI), he is part of a group trying to tackle the e-waste crisis by promoting collaboration between government, the private sector and consumers.
“E-waste is the result of a product not being planned throughout its life cycle,” Dehmy said. “We’re just reacting to a problem that we created years ago. And so if we want to take on this thing, we have to think about these things on the front end — what we design and what we as consumers are also buying.”
We have to find ways to use it [an electronic device] Longer, fix it, reuse,” he said, noting that this would require shifts of mind from consumers and businesses alike.
Various coalitions have also emerged in recent years to give consumers the option to responsibly dispose of their devices. Paquette helped launch the e-waste recycling initiative, for example, e-Stewards, which certifies and audits electronics recycling devices to ensure they properly dispose of e-waste using “very strict standards.”
Jeff Seibert, chief agitator (yes, that’s his real nickname) at SERI also recommends consumers check with their local municipality to see if they have a dedicated e-waste recycling plan. A handful of US retailers, including Staples and Best Buy, also have programs that allow consumers to bring in e-waste for recycling in the absence of a broader infrastructure. Other companies, including Apple, have programs to offer free credits or recycling in exchange for trading used gadgets.
Before choosing to donate or recycle used electronics, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you consider upgrading your computer’s hardware or software rather than buying an entirely new product. If you decide to recycle, the Environmental Protection Agency urges consumers to remove any batteries that may need to be recycled separately. The agency says recycling one million laptop computers provides energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 American homes per year. The agency says that for every million mobile phones recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
Aside from these options, Seibert simply urges consumers to start thinking about electronics like we think about cars: We don’t throw out our cars when we need new tires or if the windshield is cracked.
“Everyone wants to do the right thing,” Seibert said. “So we have to give them the resources to be able to do that, and that’s still work in progress.”