Tackling the E-Waste Problem

Technological innovation has transformed the world for the better in so many ways, but sadly our culture now normalizes an endless cycle of upgrading and later disposing of electronic devices. E-waste refers to the discarded electronic devices that pose serious environmental risks. Here’s why e-waste is so dangerous and what brands are doing to fight e-waste pollution.

While technological innovation can be a beautiful thing, many technological advances make old models obsolete, like when new models are designed for 5G speeds or when a popular brand like Apple changes their standard charging port. While these kinds of changes actually render some technology useless, many of us upgrade our phones because we want the newest models, not because the old one is no longer functional. 

We’re progressively spending more each year on electronics. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2017, Americans spent $71 billion on telephone and communication equipment, which is almost five times what they spent in 2010 even after we account for inflation. Many of the phones that have been replaced don’t get recycled. In 2019, only 17% of e-waste was recorded as being collected and recycled.

Our devices are produced with many different toxic and dangerous chemicals like lithium, beryllium, and mercury. It’s not safe to discard electronics in the trash or in recycling bins, but only 19 states have laws banning electronic waste from regular trash. Fires more frequently occur in recycling centers because it’s more common for flammable lithium batteries to get mixed in with paper recycling. E-waste also contains rare minerals like copper, gold, silver, and palladium. When we throw our devices away, we’re throwing away rare non-renewable resources. 

Much of our e-waste isn’t recycled safely, but is instead shipped to developing countries who don’t have the infrastructure to safely process the imports. Families and workers instead perform informal recycling practices and expose themselves to dangerous toxins as they give electronic parts acid baths or burn them to expose valuable metals. These processes create fumes that can travel thousands of miles from the recycling site, and puts humans and wildlife at risk of developing serious illness. One informal recycling hub in Guiyu, China caused the region to have extremely high lead levels, which can cause neurological damage in wildlife and humans.

So what can we do to create a more sustainable world when it comes to e-waste? Try to keep your current tech in good condition. If you’re tech savvy enough for it, consider repairing your tech when you can, so long as you can do it safely. iFixit is a website that has tons of free repair guides available.

Properly recycling our e-waste is another great way to be more sustainable. According to the Geneva Environment Network, “recycled metals are two to 10 times more energy efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore,” and mining discarded electronics produces 80% less carbon dioxide than when mined from the ground. 

Many Certified B corps are in the fight against e-waste by offering recycling services for different kinds of e-waste. Nimble sells tech accessories that are made from recycled materials and provides free e-waste recycling with every order. All Green Recycling provides recycling services for large businesses and processes anything from security systems to some automotive parts. Homeboy recycling destroys the data on all devices they process. So when it’s time to part with your electronics, explore these options and if you find other great ways to keep e-waste from ending its life in a landfill, let us know! We’d love to hear about them!

By Bianca Gonzalez December 28, 2021