E-waste is the fastest growing solid waste stream. Each year more and more electronics are bought, used, and discarded.
I’m so proud to be typing this blog post on my 10 year old laptop. Which might run pretty slow… which might weigh 15lbs… which might have a teeny tiny memory space… but it’s still working great! *knock on wood*
Also, if you want to knock on wood for me… I’d appreciate that.
I love my laptop and would be perfectly content for it to stick with me for many more years to come.
The problem is, eventually, software won’t work on my laptop. I won’t be able to update my browser or maybe the Adobe Suite, which I depend on for my business, won’t be compatible.
Many manufacturers continue to create new and “better” devices year after year. They want us to keep reaching for just a little bit better technology.
Old models are phased out by making them difficult to repair or not offering updates. It’s a way to keep us spending money.
After all, how can they churn a profit if all of us hold onto our devices for decades?
A lot of this also harkens to planned obsolescence. Not sure what that is? Check out my blog post What is Zero Waste? What is the Circular Economy?
One of the best things you can do is hold onto your electronic devices for as long as possible before recycling.
Try to repair them. If you have to upgrade for work, try to have your old electronics refurbished so they stay in the waste stream for as long as possible, and then when you are in the market for a new device, try to buy from the secondhand market!
I have a great blog post called How Zero Waste is Technology which dives a little further into some of the problems surrounding our current techno world.
Let’s get down to it. This is one post in a series of posts I’m doing called “How to Recycle - the Right Way!”
Now, we’re talking ALL about E-Waste.
If e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream, then we’ve got to make sure that we’re disposing our electronics - the right way!
what is e-waste?
The term e-waste is loosely applied to electronic equipment when it’s reached the end of it’s useful life, but there is no clear definition of what e-waste is. While we most commonly associate computers, fax machines, cell phones, and charging cables with e-waste, it could also apply to appliances.
However, there’s no definition for e-waste so whether or not appliances are technically e-waste is yet to be determined. I’m very interested to see how the definition of e-waste develops as we advance with technology or IoT (Internet of things).
The thing about e-waste is that it should NEVER be put in the landfill.
E-waste contains toxic and hazardous materials like mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium and chemical flame retardants which are particularly dangerous when leached into our soil and water.
e-waste is full of valuable resources:
E-waste also contains valuable precious metals like gold, copper, and silver and rare earth minerals. We're depleting the earth very quickly of non-renewable rare-earth minerals used to make electronics. So it’s important for the future of the industry to figure out how we can recycle and reuse what we have.
One of my favorite e-waste recycling initiatives is this jewelry line. Dell has partnered with Bayou with Love to make upcycled jewelry with the metals from e-waste. Which I think is pretty awesome. I have an opal ring (my birthstone!) from the collection.
not all e-waste recycling is created equally:
According to the UN up to 90% of e-waste is dumped illegally which is a huge environmental hazard. “Globally, e-waste is the most traded hazardous waste on the planet,” Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network (BAN) said.
The Basel Action Network is a non-profit working to regulate e-waste exports from industrialized societies to developing countries.
Some “recyclers” will drop e-waste off in developing parts of Africa and Asia where they don't have proper recycling processes. Workers are forced to smash and strip the electronics for their precious metals in some places gold is recovered by bathing circuit boards in nitric and hydrochloric acid.
With little to no environmental regulations, these hazardous materials are left lying around which leave workers, the water, the soil, and the surrounding community at risk.
best way to recycle e-waste:
The best way to recycle e-waste is to find an E-Steward Certified e-waste recycler. You can use that link to find a certified e-waste recycler near you.
E-Stewards is a global team that makes sure organizations, businesses, and waste management companies are disposing of e-waste responsibly, and they’re working to stop the illegal trade of e-waste!
Looking for the E-Steward certification is one of the easiest ways to recycle your electronics. Then you know that they’re going to be recycled, and you don’t have to worry about illegal trade, social, and environmental hazards.
But, to reiterate what I said before we got into the recycling portion, try to reduce the amount of e-waste you have in the first place!
One of the best places to start is by repairing what you own. If you think it’s becoming more and more difficult to get your belongings repaired, check out repair.org! They’re focused on creating legislation to make sure that we have the right to repair our belongings.
Focus on reducing how many electronics you buy. When you do shop, try to buy secondhand. Hold onto what you have as long as possible and opt for repairs.