The Problem of E-Waste
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America, according to the EPA. Of the estimated 2.37 million tons of electronics discarded in the U.S. in 2009, only 25 percent was properly recycled. The rest was dumped into landfills or burned at incinerators, dismissing tons of valuable materials from recovery.
This is not only a disappointing testament to our ability to reduce our devices’ impact, but also a major threat to the environment and human health. Smartphones, for example, are composed of more than 40 elements, including toxic chemicals like lead and mercury that pose dangerous health risks to humans after prolonged or high exposure.
Fixing the Problem
Although these stats paint a bleak picture, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Awareness of the electronic waste problem is spreading fast and smartphone manufacturers and consumers are beginning to act. There are three major initiatives we can take to mitigate e-waste:
- Extend device usage to end-of-life
- Recover more recyclable material from existing devices
- Design new devices to be more easily recycled
Extending the life of a device is the easiest and most preferable way to reduce waste. If you sell your phone to Gazelle when you upgrade, you can check this off your environmental to-dos.
Initiative #3 is somewhat out of consumers’ hands, since it requires companies like Apple and Samsung to lead the charge on innovating environmentally-friendly designs. Luckily, that’s exactly what they’re now doing. Apple recently announced its newest environmental initiative is a robot that can disassemble an iPhone and categorize the device’s hundreds of tiny pieces so that they are easier to recycle. Liam, as Apple affectionately named it, processes an iPhone every 11 seconds, or up to 1.2 million iPhones every year.
Traditional electronics recycling methods involve shredding or burning a device and using magnets to pull different metals apart. It’s a messy system that makes it difficult to accurately separate the pieces.
Liam is making huge strides towards smarter recycling! But to make Liam effective, Apple first had to design the iPhone to be easily disassembled– a feat in itself. That’s why Liam only works with the iPhone 6S.
So what about the rest of us with older model iPhones or Androids? That’s why #2 from our list is so important.
Recycling Old Phones
Even if your phone holds no resale value, there’s still value in disposing it responsibly. Take your device to one of 2,000+ ecoATM kiosks across the U.S. and they’ll send it to a responsible recycler. ecoATM. Inc.only partners with a limited number of e-waste recyclers who adhere to Responsible Recycling Practices (R2).
Properly recycling your electronics does so much more for the environment than simply removing it from waste streams. The rare and precious metals found in smartphones are 40 to 50 times richer than those in newly mined ores, according to Sustainable Electronics Recycling International. Translation? Recycling an old device significantly reduces energy use and environmental waste from mining and processing virgin materials. And that’s a big win.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.