During the launch of iPhone 6, Apple fans lined up outside stories for 2 days, camping out with sleeping bags and energy bars, simply to get their hands on the newer, sleeker version.
While Apple may have sold a record number of 20 million units, the real story is the millions of phones that will be disposed, neglected, or smashed as owners fall in love with the newer, better version.
E-waste is not just a tree-hugger’s problem. Massive e-waste dumpsites are cropping up around the world – Ghana, China, Vietnam, India. They’re almost all in the developing world. That’s because they emit toxic fumes, clogging the lungs of the workers stuck working these hazardous jobs. They wouldn’t comply with our EPA standards in the US (even though we send tons of it away). That’s why our “recycled” e-waste ends up in dumpsites overseas. Few recyclers truly recycle the materials in an environmental fashion. Why? Because it’s expensive to do so. It’s cheaper to burn it, smash it, break it down, and sell it in informal markets.
Every year cell phone manufacturers come out with glitzy new models of their device. They’re designed to only last a couple years; battery life will begin to wear, and users will become frustrated with inferior performance. So, what do we do? Throw it out for a new one. That’s the intent of these tech companies.
Yet, we could repair those phones. Your iPhone 4s can be repaired. Your Samsung Galaxy 4 can be repaired. Their lives can be extended. But we choose not to.
Bear in mind, though, that a chip in a smartphone contains 60 chemical elements (no, they’re not eco-friendly parts, in case you’re still wondering). China alone made 1.18 billion phones in 2012. The US tossed out over 250 million computer, monitors, TVs, and cell phones in 2010. Experts estimate that e-waste volumes will reach 65 tons by 2017. And by then, we’ll have over 10 billion mobile phones connected.
While it sounds abysmal, there a few solutions. Consumers could repair phones, hold onto them longer and extend their life. That’s the easiest way, as a consumer, that we could show some love to the planet.
Also, consider donating your phones to organizations such as Hope Phones, which uses old phones to provide maternal health in rural communities: health workers are equipped with these discarded phones to monitor and track patients in the field. Or support companies such as Rico, a start-up (with a kickstarter campaign online), which is repurposing used smartphones for home security programs that are clunky, expensive, and un-recyclable.
Several factories have cropped up that are using the necessary equipment (and environmental precautions) to breakdown phones. One of these is ironically in India – a country whose environmental policies have been dismal but is home to Bangalore, one of the biggest IT hubs on the planet. Just outside of Bangalore, Rohan Gupta runs a state-of-the-art facility where’s not just processing e-waste but refashioning the metals extracted from the waste into watches and “eco-friendly” jewelry. Inventive, indeed.
As our love with technology grows, we need to remember that it’s not the easiest thing to dispose of. Would you plant used smartphones into your flower beds or rose garden? Probably not.
So, why dump them into a trash bin if they can be repurposed, reused, or passed down.
The Earth is a living, breathing entity. But, it doesn’t use cell phones. We do. We shouldn’t dump our junk onto it. That would be like dumping your trash in your neighbors backyard – they didn’t make it, why should they have to deal with it?