For technology to become accessible, it must first become affordable and when it becomes affordable; it becomes disposable. In the early days of technology, the products were expensive, which meant that people invested the time to keep them running. If they broke, you got it fixed; if it couldn’t be fixed, you tried to save whatever parts you could salvage, because you may need them for something else. It wasn’t uncommon to go into garages and basements and find pieces and pieces of other technology being saved for other uses.
Disposable Income and Products
However, the need to repair and reuse technology changed once it not only became mass produced but relatively inexpensive to replace too. Within the last decade or so, it simply made more sense to throw out misbehaving equipment rather than repair it. Not only did you get a functional piece of equipment, but often it was an upgrade in features and was less expensive as well. Of course, the next question is, what happens to the stuff we throw out?
What is considered e-waste?
So, as you can see, even if you’re not in the IT industry, the chances are high that you’re going to produce some e-waste. In fact, some organizations consider e-waste to be any device with a plug. Whether it’s an old TV or tea kettle, a printer that you can’t find ink for or broken laptop, unless you recycle it, you’re going to produce e-waste.
Without a recycling plan in place, the majority of the electronics we throw out up end up in landfills or incinerators, and that’s when the real problems start. The lack of effective e-waste recycling solutions goes beyond the waste of resources but enters the realm of health, both human and environmental.
Regarding health and safety, e-waste contains numerous toxic and hazardous materials and chemicals; including mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and more. When left in a landfill, these materials have the potential to leach into our soil, water and if burned, into the atmosphere. With more than 20 million tons of e-waste produced each year, you can see how much stress we are placing on our environment and ultimately ourselves, by not recycling electronics.
With such a wide range of electronics available to talk about, this month we’ll focus on cell phones. Think about how you use your phone. Like most people you may have a plan with a major carrier which allows you to upgrade yours every 18-20 months. What happens to your old phone? 70% of cell phones could be reused. However, less than 18% are recycled each year. The rest end up in the dump. The truth is the majority of new cell phones are purchased to replace working cell phones.
There’s gold in them hills...Well, landfills anyway. The EPA states that for every 1 million cell phones recycled we can get 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium.
It is estimated that in America alone there are 60 million dollars in precious metals dumped into landfills every year. Can you imagine how much good we could do if we utilized those resources instead of burying them in piles of rubbish?
What’s worse is that the majority of the time, the cell phones we throw out aren’t in pieces or broken. In reality, they are tossed away whole and often functional. What this means is that the phones can be provided for reuse or deconstructed for the recovery of materials; which reduces the amount of waste that would end up in a landfill.
How to Recycle your Electronics
Like most recycling, you’re going to have to put in some effort, but the rewards are worth it. If you’re like me, you have a drawer full of old cell phones. Phones that were purchased before the days of ‘trading up.’ A quick look and I have a blackberry, Nokia (running Symbian OS), a Windows phone, and - of course - a TracFone. Now these are all outdated tech, you’re not going to be watching YouTube on them or using them as a hotspot. However, they still do one thing very well… make phone calls, and there are still plenty of people who want to have a cell phone ‘just in case.’
Keep an eye out for opportunities to donate your unused cell phones. It’s not uncommon for churches, schools and other civic organizations to request cell phones to provide communication abilities to seniors or other at-risk populations. I recently saw a donation box for cell phones (and eyeglasses) at my local Y.
Use your Google skills to find local organizations whose goal is to reduce the amount of e-waste which is going into landfills. One such organization is call2recycle which offers drop off sites for your unwanted electronic. Great news! There are 4 drop off sites right here in Rapid City.
While this blog is about recycling cell phones, the same opportunities to donate or recycle are available for the majority of your other electronic devices. Unused computer equipment is always welcomed and, like cell phones, can provide people access and the ability to communicate that they wouldn’t have without your donation. The truth is while most of us love to have that latest and greatest, most computers still have plenty of life in them and can benefit those who don’t have the resources to purchase their own.
Finally, whatever you do with your old devices is up to you but remember when you toss your old phone in the trash, that not the end of its story. Once it ends up in a landfill and the dangerous materials begin to spill out of it, there’s no telling where they’re going to end up or in. Hopefully, we will all reach the same level of awareness about e-waste, as we do when it comes to recycling paper and plastic. If not for the environment, then maybe for the gold.