In the past few years, we’ve seen the Green Revolution reach record-breaking levels of participation from all sectors. In 2008, 25 big companies including the Bank of America, General Electric, and even McDonald’s made headlines when they made the commitment to greener business practices. These green businesses quickly discovered the eco-friendly practices not only put them on the public’s good side, but could also bring in billions in revenue for their operations.
This has pushed smaller companies to begin making the change to go green as well. Community recycling plants have been established, leaving people with no excuses to not recycle. Attention has also been shifted to the many wasteful aspects of daily life that often go unnoticed. Oxfam’s efforts to reduce the amount of textiles wasted in landfills have had a noticeable effect, with UK retail chain Marks and Spencer reporting that donations of old clothes have amounted to about £8 million (roughly $13.5 million) given to charity.
Most of the renewed attention for more sustainable lifestyles has been made possible through advances in technology. Unfortunately, this technology is also a double-edged sword. As we continue to develop more advanced technology, hundreds of older models of technology become obsolete, resulting in millions of electronics being dumped into landfills every year.
Reports by E-Stewards show that in 2012, sales of new equipment included 238.5 million televisions, 444.4 million computers and tablets, and 1.75 billion mobile phones, which are all expected to become obsolete in as little as 1-3 years. Global electronic waste (or e-waste) continues to grow by 8% every year, and sadly, many remain ignorant of — or worse, indifferent to — the amount of electronics piling up in landfills. In the EU, home appliances such as fridges, microwaves and electronic ovens accounted for about 44% of electronic waste.
E-Waste: What can it do?
Most people are caught unaware of the ill effects that the increasing amount of electronic waste can have, on the environment and on the human body. Some electronic waste contains hazardous materials such as mercury, lead and lithium, which can cause everything from birth defects to nerve damage. The improper disposal of electronic waste puts us at greater risk, however, as incinerating or melting electronics down creates cancer-producing dioxins that seep into groundwater or escape into the air we breathe.
A rather ironic consequence of the accumulation of e-waste lies in the accidental disposal of precious metals. Because most mobile phones and computers are made with gold and silver components, Americans unknowingly dispose of $60 million worth of gold and silver every year.
E-Waste: What can we do?
E-waste recycling plants aren’t quite well known as most other recycling plants, but they do exist. In fact, studies by BCC Research show that the global market for global recycling is projected to grow to $13 billion in 2014. This figure grows by 8.9% every year, as more people become aware of the hazardous effects of e-waste. The proper disposal of old electronic appliances is part of the answer to the growing e-waste crisis, as it not only ensures that hazardous metals are dealt with accordingly, but it also allows for the recovery of precious materials in electronics.
Recycling 1 million mobile phones could result in the recovery of 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and even 33 lbs of palladium, a rare and expensive metal. Scraps and parts from electronics can also be used for the repair and restoration of similar models of electronics, but only if they are managed properly.
If you are interested in recycling your electronic waste but can’t seem to find the corresponding recycling center in your area, or would like to build more support for the management of electronic waste in your community, please contact your local authorities.
Of course, there’s no better way to begin pushing for better e-waste management than by building awareness through your own actions. With billions of electronics being tossed in the trash every year, causing millions’ worth of precious metals to be lost and innumerable toxic chemicals to be released into the environment, ask yourself: do you really need that new phone today? Do you really need that new tablet? Would your current PC and laptop just do the trick?
Those fancy gadgets may seem like the most important things in the world, and you might think that you can’t live without them, but you’ve survived this long without one. Remember, just because they make it, doesn’t mean you need it!