With the astonishing pace at which technology is advancing, we have all lived through generations of models and entire categories of devices becoming obsolete. Technology that was considered cutting edge just a few years ago can’t keep pace with modern updates.
What happens to these devices when they have outlived their usefulness? Many sit in houses for years collecting dust, their owners unsure what to do with them. Eventually, most end up in the trash, which can have serious and unintended consequences.
In this article, the experts at Recycell present an overview of e-waste, its dangers, and how it can be mitigated.
What is e-waste?
E-waste, also known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), refers to electronics that are discarded because they are unwanted, not working, or no longer considered useful. The term includes almost any item that contains circuitry or electrical components powered by electricity or a battery. Examples include microwaves, fans, smartphones, computers, DVD and Blu-Ray players, video game consoles, TVs, fax machines and printers.
E-waste is increasing exponentially, with a record 53.6 million metric tonnes generated globally in 2019, according to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020. This presents a major problem, as e-waste leaches toxic materials when disposed of in landfills. Electronics contain valuable raw materials that could be reused, but only 17.4% of the e-waste generated in 2019 was recycled, leaving the grand majority of the US$57 billion worth of raw materials in landfills.
The truth is that many of the electronics being sent to landfills don’t even need to be discarded—a lot of them still work! Technology is just evolving so fast that devices become outdated before they even have a chance to wear out. How many of us have anxiously awaited the end of our two-year plan before rushing out to buy the latest flagship phone from Samsung or Apple?
The issue of technological advances fuelling e-waste is further exacerbated by manufacturers using strategies such as software updates and ending support for older models to push consumers to buy new devices. Repair is portrayed as expensive, inconvenient, and less advantageous than buying a replacement with updated features.
Consequences of e-waste disposal
Health and the environment
While electronics are safe to use and be around, most contain toxic materials such as beryllium, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and lead. When the electronics are buried in a landfill, the toxins leach into the soil and can contaminate the groundwater. While each device only releases trace amounts of toxins, the amount of e-waste now being discarded results in significant accumulation.
In Canada, it’s illegal to export e-waste to developing countries. However, other nations are in the habit of shipping their e-waste to developing countries that lack the capacity to handle it appropriately, endangering the local environment and public health. Exposure to such toxic contaminants can have irreversible health consequences such as cancer, miscarriage and neurological damage.
Furthermore, mining for the raw materials to manufacture new electronics also releases contaminants into the environment.
The consequences of e-waste disposal on the environment are evident, but fewer people are aware that throwing electronics away can also pose dangers to data security and privacy. It might seem improbable, but hackers and identity thieves are perfectly willing to dumpster dive to acquire the treasure troves of data stored on old, discarded devices.
Even if you erase all of your sensitive personal information before throwing your old phone or laptop in the trash, the data is not completely eliminated from the hard drive and can be retrieved by skilled hackers. The resulting leaks can be financially and legally catastrophic for businesses and individuals alike.
Professional e-waste recycling companies have the expertise necessary to ensure that none of your sensitive data remains in the components of your device. In the end, recycling your old devices may prove just as important as securing your phone while it’s still in use!
How to reduce e-waste
Materials such as steel, glass, copper, aluminum, iron, plastic and precious metals can be recovered from obsolete electronics and reused to manufacture new ones. Companies like Samsung are starting to make environmentally-friendly phones out of recycled materials. Recycling has the double benefit of keeping e-waste out of landfills and reducing the need to mine new materials.
Recycling your old electronics may seem more complicated than simply throwing them in the trash, but there are many resources available to help you recycle your phone and other devices. Most phone vendors can take care of recycling your old phone when you purchase a new one. Canada has a free program called Recycle My Cell for recycling mobile devices and accessories. They can even provide you with a pre-paid shipping label to mail your device in for recycling! The Recycle My Electronics program provides drop off points for e-waste in nine provinces across the country.
Governments also have a role to play in creating incentives to reduce e-waste. They can push companies to offer buy-back systems for old devices and encourage repair as a viable option.
Help reduce e-waste by buying a used phone!
Another way for consumers to help reduce e-waste and minimize their ecological footprint is to buy a used phone. Buying a used phone reduces the demand for mining new raw materials and gives a second life to a device that might otherwise become e-waste.
Businesses that are looking to upgrade their cell phone fleets can also sell their old devices to a used phone retailer to prevent them from ending up in a landfill or in the hands of a cybercriminal.
If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly way to upgrade your device, Recycell can help! We purchase phones from companies, refurbish them if necessary and sell them at unbeatable prices. Save money AND the environment—shop at Recycell today!