Wouldn’t you love an innovative smartphone that recognizes your voice and follows your instructions to a T? Or a laptop that’s light as a feather yet still packs a punch in terms of its specs?
At the rate the technology industry is progressing, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the new product launches. We become so busy looking forward to what comes next, focused on the next best thing. But what about your old gadgets? What happens to them?
Technology has become an intrinsic part of society. That cannot be denied, seeing as how it has infiltrated so many facets of our lives, so much so that it would be difficult to go a day without it. Just imagine going through your day without any of the affordances of the modern world: no phone, no laptop, no internet!
Technological advances have paved the way for a more connected world, and the most evident headway can be seen in telecommunications. Innovations in this industry have bridged the gap between countries by facilitating faster connections.
Companies continuously seek to improve the designs and features of their products. They have sold consumers a lifestyle and have made them believe that their current technology needs replacement after some time.
So, what’s the issue? In a society that is so technology-driven, where new smartphones and other gadgets are launched so often, environmentalists worry about what happens to the electronic waste (e-waste) that is brought about by the constantly changing industry.
Problems with Non-Green Disposal
The waste generated from this near-constant production of technology amounted to 50 million tons in 2016. The United Nations University predicts that come 2021, it will reach around 57 million tons.
Around 70 to 80 percent of this waste goes straight to landfills, but e-waste is full of toxic materials such as lead, zinc, nickel, barium, cadmium, beryllium, and chromium—all of which can be harmful to living things.
These materials threaten to further pollute our water, land, and air, and they endanger all of Earth’s inhabitants. What’s more, they can also affect our food production.
When e-waste is exposed to heat, a chemical reaction happens that releases the toxins contained in its materials into the air. This can cause respiratory diseases for those who have direct or indirect contact with them.
Of these toxins, lead, specifically, can cause damage to the blood, kidney, and the nervous system (central and peripheral), which can eventually lead to death (1).
Some gadgets also contain elements such as copper, silver, and gold. This consumes a considerable amount of these valuable materials. In fact, more than a tenth of these are used in the gadgets you purchase (2); yet, after being completely used, they are just thrown back into landfills.
Note that a significant portion of e-waste comes from developed countries, such as the USA and China. This e-waste ends up being illegally exported and dumped in developing countries, which are more susceptible to the hazards because most lack the proper tools or procedures to deal with the ensuing toxins.
Companies are expected to do their part in developing e-waste disposal programs to minimize their environmental impact. These usually come in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.
Now the question is: What can we, as individuals, do to promote proper e-waste disposal?
Green Disposal Methods
Before anything else, make sure that you have deleted any and all of your personal information from the gadgets you will be giving away or disposing of. Identity theft is a real concern in this day and age. By protecting your data, you protect yourself and the people around you.
Here are various green, e-waste disposal methods:
If you want a new gadget but your current one is still in good condition, then trade it in for another one that has better specs. There are stores that allow you to purchase new devices for a big discount if you exchange your old device for it.
Ask around your local electronic shops to see if this type of system is being implemented. Ask them where you can drop off the gadgets. This way, Some of the money allotted for your new device can go back to your savings, and you can also save part of the Earth while you’re at it.
Research and Donate
There are non-government organizations and private institutions that accept old scraps from used gadgets. If your electronic devices are still functional, they can be donated to those who cannot afford them. Also, some academic institutions collect these materials for experiments or studies.
Institutions and businesses offer various electronic donation programs you can choose from. Just make sure that these gadgets are still in working condition, and, once again, ensure that they do not still contain your information.
Take account of all the gadgets you have in storage right now. You can sell them through different online sites, or try to talk to your friend and see if they’re interested.
A number of people are already doing this through social media sites, such as Facebook. Aside from making a little extra cash, you also decrease the amount of e-waste that is being disposed of.
Recycle and Repurpose
If you do not know what to do with your old gadgets, look for organizations that recycle these products. These are accredited by the Basel Action Network (BAN), a non-government organization that combats the export of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries.
Otherwise, approach your local government unit to see if they have programs that deal with e-waste. Companies like Apple offer to recycle your used gadgets for free.
Alternatively, you can use materials from your old phone and turn it into something beautiful and useful. This process is called upcycling. By repurposing what items you have on hand, you give them new value.
Look at some ideas on how to upcycle your electronic waste. Japan is a model country for this. They have started an initiative called the circular economy, wherein the materials from old technologies are refurbished and used to make other products, such as medals for the Olympics.
It is also seen as a way to promote green designs, which allow the materials from outdated products to be incorporated into new ones. This allows for a more sustainable future.
There is a need to increase awareness of safe e-waste disposal methods lest we forget about the literal island of garbage floating around in the Pacific. Now, the next time you or anyone you know gets a new gadget, you’ll know what to do.