The best thing to come out of this age are the electronics. Now we enjoy countless ways to finish our tasks or entertain us on boring days with just a few swipes and taps on our mobile devices. In fact, it will not be an exaggeration to describe our society today as technologically dependent.
After a period of time though, our device becomes obsolete. The rapid growth of the electronics industry can make your newly bought iPhone old in just a year. It is easy to forget that there was a time when you can own a television or phone for years before feeling the need to upgrade it.
So the question is, where does it all go? After we have dumped our old phones and tablets, what becomes of them?
The answer: they become electronic waste.
What is electronic waste?
Electronic waste or e-waste are devices that we have thrown out because they are outdated or we simply want to replace them. This includes your phones, TVs, stereos, computers, and more.
A majority of these contain hazardous chemicals like lead, beryllium, mercury, and cadmium. When your devices breakdown, they release these chemicals into the soil, air, and water. In 2018, we are expected to generate 49.8 million tonnes of electronic waste. Imagine the environmental damage all those broken down devices can do and the threat it poses to our health.
These devices are also made with precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum which are slowly becoming limited in supply. Electronic companies spend so much in mining these raw materials, there may come a time when we might not have enough to make other more important items like medical devices.
The importance of electronic waste recycling
With the increase of electronic waste comes the need to create recycling initiatives, some of which come from the consumers themselves and not the manufacturers. A lot of people are looking into TV recycling, and what this can do to alleviate the adverse ecological effects of leaving it in landfills.
Let us explore what simply recycling your TV and computers can do.
Conserving natural resources
According to the United Nations, electronic waste contain 40 to 50 times the amount of precious metals than ores that are mined from the earth. If only 10-15% of gold is extracted from electronic waste, then there is still a high percentage that are wasted. If we can focus on extraction of these raw materials, we may not need to mine for them and we would not waste so much of the precious metals.
Managing solid waste
Our electronic devices have a short life span that it fills up landfills rapidly. Recycling may mean that it will take a long time to generate waste since a majority of the materials used for our devices can be reused to create new ones.
We can also avoid releasing toxic waste by properly processing the breakdown of our electronic devices. In this way, none of the heavy metals, flame retardants, and other chemicals are released into the environment.
The biggest contribution of electronic waste management is minimising its effects in countries where we send them off for processing. Most landfills are found in Asian countries where there is cheap labour and the approach to recycling is still a bit haphazard. They are exposed to the release of the harmful toxins and may be detrimental to health of both the workers and the local residents where the recycling firms are.
As consumers, what we can do to put pressure on companies to prioritise electronic waste recycling is to propose buy-back programs. They can purchase our old devices off of us so that they can coordinate with recycling firms on how to extract the raw materials. This will result in cheaper production cost and a more affordable device available for purchase.