E-Waste: The Dark Secret of the Digital Age

With major smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung releasing new cutting edge flagship devices within less than a year of the previous model, it seems like technology from previous years is going obsolete faster than ever. The breakneck speed at which the tech industry is advancing equally excites and mind-boggles us, but do we spend enough time thinking about the implications of this continuous stream of new electronics? What happens behind the scenes when we do away with the old and bring in the new?

Manufacturers and electronics recycling agencies sometimes paint a rosy image of the end-of-life process for devices. For example, on Earth Day 2018, Apple introduced Daisy, a sophisticated recycling robot capable of dismantling 1.2 million iPhones a year. That sounds impressive, until you learn that Apple sold 217 million iPhones in 2018. The reality is that recycling barely makes a dent in the growing electronics waste problem.  

According to a UN report published in 2017, a staggering 45 million tonnes of electronics were discarded worldwide in 2016. With tech releases happening in quicker succession each year, that number is growing 4% annually [3]. Sadly, of the waste generated, only a dismal 20% is recycled. The remaining 80% meets a more ecologically damaging demise in landfills where contaminants such as lead and mercury leach out of old devices.

The recycling process allows for recovery of the precious metals commonly used in devices such as gold, silver and palladium that otherwise would be very energy intensive to mine. However, most waste designated for this recycling process is shipped overseas to developing countries where the recycling industry can take a catastrophic toll on the environment and local populations. Recycling facilities in countries such as India and Indonesia recover gold by dipping circuit boards in nitric and hydrochloric acid exposing workers to toxic fumes and ultimately releasing the effluent to local waterways [5][6]. To compound the problem, many of the countries where these processes take place lack work safety or environmental regulations to keep the spread of toxins in check.

So what is the solution to this rising flood of e-waste? The answer is simple: reduce our consumption of electronics. As great as the hype might be around the release of new technology, we should be thinking twice whether we really need the fancy new features of the latest device or whether we could get a few more years out of our old device. Repairs are getting increasingly competitive in price and could add a lot of life to a device. If we really must go the route of upgrading, we should be sure to give our former devices a chance for a second or third ownership by handing them off to a mobile device reseller.

eMobile is proud to partner with customers to keep devices from becoming e-waste as long as possible. We give your old smartphone a new life through our pre-owned certification and reselling platform. Go green with eMobile and click here to sell your old device to us. 

 

References:

[1] https://www.cnet.com/news/how-apples-daisy-iphone-recycling-robot-works/

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/263401/global-apple-iphone-sales-since-3rd-quarter-2007/

[3] https://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6341/Global-E-waste_Monitor_2017__electronic_single_pages_.pdf

[4] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2112226/chinas-most-notorious-e-waste-dumping-ground-now-cleaner-poorer

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/05/magazine/e-waste-offers-an-economic-opportunity-as-well-as-toxicity.html

[6] https://www.npr.org/2010/12/21/132204954/after-dump-what-happens-to-electronic-waste