In 2016, over 49 million tons of e-waste were generated. Unfortunately, e-waste is difficult to recycle and less than 25% is recycled. So, what happens to all the e-waste if it isn’t recycled? Most ends up in landfills or is disposed of in ways that are harmful for human health and the environment.
What Is E-Waste?
E-waste is any type of electronic waste. This includes old computers, cell phones, TVs, microwaves and any other electronic device. E-waste is difficult to recycle because it’s made of so many different materials that require special equipment to take apart. Typically, the body of electronic devices like smartphones and computers are made from metal and plastic and the hardware is made from metal. These metals include precious metals like gold and silver and toxins like lead and mercury.
The precious metals inside devices like laptops and smartphones are valuable, but taking apart the devices to access these materials requires special equipment. When that equipment isn’t available, people try to take apart the devices on their own. This can release the toxic chemicals from inside the devices which can be harmful for human and environmental health.
Where Does All The E-Waste Go?
Until recently, most of the e-waste from the United States was sent to China. In late 2017, China stopped accepting e-waste from the U.S. and other countries. Only 25% of e-waste is properly recycled, leaving the rest to go to landfills or it’s incinerated. When e-waste is burned it releases harmful and very toxic chemicals into the environment. When these devices end up in landfills they risk leaking chemicals into the soil and water around them. E-waste is a big problem, and unfortunately it hasn’t been getting any better.
Why Do We Have So Much E-Waste?
When we go to buy something new, we will usually throw away the item we are replacing. This is true of electronic devices too. As we have become increasingly reliant on technology, we produce more technology and there are more opportunities to replace old devices and add new technology to our device collections.
Additionally, most tech products aren’t built to last. Instead, they are built to last until the next version is released. Your cell phone battery? Your TV? After a short while, our devices stop working as well as they originally did. Sometimes this forces us to buy a new device, but we’re also attracted to newer, updated versions of our products. So, we often buy new devices and are left to dispose of out old devices.
How Can We Limit E-Waste?
The best way to limit your electronic waste is to use your devices for as long as possible and resist the urge to trade up. We know that isn’t always feasible, devices break or stop working optimally and it’s time for a new one. So, if you are ready to get a new device, what should you do with your old one?
Giving away old devices is a great way to keep the device out of a landfill. There are a lot of places that will take donations of electronics in good conditions, so check for a local donation center near you. If there isn’t a donation center, there are companies that specialize in recycling e-waste and keeping technological devices out of landfills. Homeboy industries offers Homeboy Electronics Recycling in L.A. They specialize in recycling e-waste and finding ways to reuse parts of the device!
Another great way to get rid of your electronics is through corporate buyback or recycling programs. A lot of technology companies will help you recycle or even purchase back your used electronics. Companies like Dell, Apple and Microsoft all have recycling or buyback programs for their electronics.
Whatever you do, don’t throw any of your e-waste in the trash! This can release harmful chemicals and toxins into the environment, and it ensures your device will end up in a landfill.