The Messy Realities of E-Waste

November 16, 2014

8:00 pm

How many computers, cell phones and other electronic devices have you used and replaced in the last 10 years? As is frequently the case, the number you’re now pondering is probably quite staggering. All those older, broken, or simply obsolete devices we get rid of whenever we upgrade our electronics? That’s e-waste. That first iPod you had? E-waste. Those bulky CRT computer monitors your company replaced with sleek new flat-screens a few years ago? More e-waste.

E-waste quite simply is “discarded electrical or electronic devices,” and some of the numbers surrounding this issue are cause for serious concern.

The State of Things:

We could spend considerable time going over the figures concerning e-waste. For example: According to the EPA, in 2009 Americans disposed of 29.4 million computers, 22.7 million televisions, and 129 million cell phones, and that was five years ago. Since then the problem has only continued to grow. According to recent research, for the first time ever, there are more connected mobile devices in the United States than there are people. That’s a LOT of electronic devices that will eventually need to be replaced. 327.6 million to be exact.

However what’s truly most important isn’t where we happen to be at any given moment, but the direction in which we’re heading so don’t despair! There are social and technological developments offering hope and possible solutions to the e-waste conundrum.

Recycling!

Everyone loves recycling! There are a growing number of facilities in existence today that accept discarded electronics to be sent off for disassembly, repurposing, and extraction of precious metals and there’s even a catchy name for it: E-cycling. All it takes is a quick Google search to find the closest e-cycling drop off location. Load up the car with those old monitors, cell phones, printers, cables, fax machines, and televisions, drive to the nearest e-waste drop off station, and be happy that you’re part of a solution. While not a perfect or comprehensive fix for the e-waste problem, it sure beats tossing that monitor in the trash.

Additionally, it is important to note that Microsoft and Apple, as well as many electronics retailers offer their own technology “buyback” programs. These programs can work well for people who are loyal to one brand, or those who purchase a majority of their electronic devices from a single retailer. Many of these buyback programs offer rebates and/or credits which can be applied towards future tech purchases which adds a financial incentive to e-cycling.

Dissolvable Tech

Yes, you read that correctly. Dissolvable technology. This article from science, research and tech news outlet, Phys.org, goes into considerable detail describing concepts and technologies currently being developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and it’s exactly what it sound like. Just imagine, one day in the not-too-distant future, being able to take old electronic devices and submerge them in liquid and then watch as they dissolve into harmless end-stage materials. While this technology is currently in the conceptual and developmental stage and isn’t quite ready for consumer applications just yet, the prospect is very exciting!

Skipping Upgrades

Yes, that new monitor looks really awesome and sure, the latest version of your current phone has some cool added features. However, do you REALLY need it? Sometimes an upgrade is necessary for business purposes or to maintain basic functionality, but sometimes it is simply the result of “planned obsolescence.” Keeping up with the Joneses may be fun, but the associated environmental costs are significant.

Next time you get the urge to upgrade the phone you just bought new six months ago, ask yourself “Do I really need this, or can I wait for the next upgrade?” Additionally, skipping unnecessary upgrades will save you cash and when you finally do upgrade, the difference between old and new will be more significant and exciting!

So there you have it, now get out there and save the planet!

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Founder and CEO of Island Technologies

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