Over the past couple of months, Apple, Google and Samsung have unveiled their latest smartphones and other devices, aiming to get consumers to upgrade before the holidays. But in the process, those companies and others are also adding to a growing problem: e-waste.
The limited lifespan of many technological gadgets combined with the limited possibilities of repairing old devices, the problem of e-waste has increased over the years. United Nations data indicates that the world generated a whopping 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, of which only 17.4% was recycled.
Friday marks International E-Waste Day, an annual opportunity to reflect on the impacts of e-waste and do more to fix or recycle it. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE) Forum, a Brussels-based not-for-profit organization that has been running the event since 2018, said this year’s focus is on taking action on the small bits of e-waste that many people may unwittingly collect, including your old one. mobile phone, headphones, remote controls and computer mouse.
“People don’t realize that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and that together they represent huge volumes globally,” WEEE Forum CEO Pascal Leroy said in a statement.
The problem of e-waste is much more than just clearing space in junk drawers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that large portions of e-waste are sent to developing countries that lack the capacity to refuse such imports or the infrastructure to safely recycle them. The World Health Organization has warned that children, with smaller hands, are often used to process mountains of electronic waste in developing nations for valuable elements such as copper, silver, palladium and more. The WHO said that more than 18 million children have suffered a range of negative health effects as they are involved in this informal e-waste processing industry.
Here are some steps you can take to lighten your e-waste burden with your phones, laptops, and chargers stashed around the house.
If you live in an area that offers e-waste disposal services (either through specific pick-up dates or a drop-off location), experts say this is one of the easiest and most intuitive ways to clean up your old gadgets.
Several coalitions have emerged in recent years to empower consumers to responsibly dispose of their devices. The e-Stewards team and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International offer online tools to find certified recycling centers.
The collective impact of e-waste recycling can be enormous. For every one million cell phones that are recycled, the EPA says 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
But not all US municipalities offer e-waste recycling infrastructure.
If you can’t find a recycling center nearby, a growing list of major retailers—including Staples and Best Buy—also have programs to bring in customers’ e-waste for recycling. And many manufacturers, including Apple ( AAPL ), have programs that offer credits or free recycling for used gadgets. Google ( GOOG ), for example, offers a free shipping label to send certain used gadgets and electronics for recycling.
Environmental advocates say the most important step in combating the e-waste problem is simply to use your electronics as long as possible. In a way, that’s easier than ever.
While tech manufacturers have come under fire for tactics aimed at renovating you, politicians have recently enacted changes to encourage companies to repair consumer electronics for customers and support the rise of the Right to Repair movement.
Earlier this year, Apple and Samsung launched their own self-service repair shops, offering parts for users looking for do-it-yourself repairs for their phones. Google also announced that it would offer genuine Pixel parts for DIYers in an online store later this year.