By now, almost everyone has a cell phone and if not, a computer or TV. After these electronics reach the end of their functionality, they typically get thrown out or recycled to a specific plant that can repurpose the materials. But what actually happens to them?
Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, can include any device that has plugs, cords, or electronic parts. The disposal of these products in landfills can cause leaching, as toxic materials including lead and mercury get into the soil and water. While only 2% of America’s landfills consist of e-waste, it makes up 70% of toxic waste, proving electronic waste is, in fact, very detrimental to both the environment and our society as a whole. In addition, electronic devices also contain valuable non-renewable resources such as gold, platinum, and cobalt, meaning complete disposal causes a waste of the valuable materials. As much as $60 billion worth of raw materials is thought to be contained in e-waste throughout the world. Ideally, this waste should be disposed of through recycling and then refined; however, it’s a very slow and inefficient process that’s frequently outsourced for child labor or is conducted with no concerns for worker safety. Consequently, only about 17% of this waste is collected and properly recycled.
Solutions now focus mainly on the production and maintenance of electronic devices. By having materials be more clearly labeled and constructed, the recycling process would be much more efficient and easily reused. Steps that can be taken by consumers and users focus more on the reduced disposal of these products, allowing devices to stay out of the landfill or recycling plant as long as possible.