6 Cool Transformative Uses of E-Waste

September 29, 2016

7:30 pm

When a new smartphone or X-box unit hits the market, we line up to get them. When better tablets, laptops, TV’s and other gadgets break or become obsolete in our own eyes, we discard them and buy new. This has all created a well-publicized problem – e-waste, some of which is toxic and hazardous.

By 2017, the yearly amount of e-waste will reach 65.4 million tons worldwide. Environmentalists are obviously concerned. And populations in underdeveloped countries, primarily in Asia, are burning and manually sorting this e-waste to salvage what is of value, endangering their health and lives.

Where Are the Solutions?

The answer is they are coming, albeit slowly. Here are just some of the innovations that started over concern for the amount of e-waste we are accumulating.

Recycling the “Rare Earths”

Given the explosion in annual purchases of new electronics, it now makes sense to recycle the various rare metals that are used in the discarded devices. In addition to base metals, such as iron, copper, lead, and zinc, small amounts of platinum, silver, gold, silver, lithium, nickel and cobalt are also found in electronics. Because these metals are rare, they have become more valuable with time, and extracting them through various chemical processes for re-use has become far more common, particularly in Asia.

Apple Has a Robot

There are nearly a billion Apple devices in the world, and to do its part in the ever-growing e-waste problem, has developed Liam, a robot that takes old iPhones apart so the components can be recycled. Users of Apple devices can get a prepaid shipping label to send their unwanted items to the company.

Dissolving Circuit Boards

A group of scientists in the UK has created a circuit board that will dissolve in hot water. Once it melts away, the reusable parts remain. According to the group, they can salvage 90% of resistors and capacitors, as opposed to the 2% currently salvaged.

Olympic Medals From E-Waste

Japan will be hosting the 2020 Olympics. And Japan will be making the medals. Japan, however, does not have its own supply of minerals and, rather than buying the metals from commercial mining farms, it plans to use the metals in e-waste to fashion those medals.

This may take some doing because Olympic medals’ mineral components are determined by the International Olympic Committee and must contain specific amounts of the mineral for which the medal is named. For example, gold medals actually have more silver than gold, and bronze metals have more copper than bronze. But still, there are requirements. The gold medal must have a minimum of 6g pure gold, but the rest may be made of up of other metals. Why? Because pure gold medals would be far too expensive (and a bit soft). And the price of silver is rising rapidly.

Japan thinks it can “mine” the gold and silver from e-waste and set a great precedent.

Buy, Sell and Trade Devices

A number of emerging companies let consumers buy, sell or trade-in their old electronics for newer models. It works somewhat like a used car lot. A phone owner can ship his/her device to the company, it gets checked out, and the company then provides the owner with a price value.

The customer can then either take the cash or trade the phone in, along with some additional cash, and buy a newer model. As Amy Rice of Gazelle states: “Our company offers a win-win situation. People can sell their electronics that they no longer use; they can buy certified pre-owned devices far cheaper than buying new; and when this happens, fewer devices end up in landfills.”

There are other eco-friendly options, too, like donating devices to charity.

Replace Parts Rather Than Devices

Google’s Project Ara has a new smartphone. Basically, the phone is made up of modules that snap together. Rather than replacing an entire phone when it goes bad, a defective module can be replaced. Another feature is that there will be upgrades to each module, and those can be purchased separately too. Fairphone has a similar model. Expect these on the market in 2017.


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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien

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