And where do all the discarded phones go? By Eshla

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?

12 thoughts on “And where do all the discarded phones go? By Eshla

  1. thinking article. yes, the purpose should be to ‘repurpose, reuse and pass down.’ not to choke the living, breathing’ entity: the earth. we should have an UNO type security council’ with green armed nations in board’ to prevent environmental disaster to secure lives in earth and their future.

  2. Pranaam Shekhar ji

    Thanks for sharing such informative piece. The e-waste would create havoc for our environment right from polluting our water with heavy metals like mercury, lead etc. – to releasing carcinogenic air pollutants. It is because of lack of awareness. E- waste is still not considered hazardous by consumers. Organized recycling of this hazardous waste is the only answer to this problem.
    I have heard about Rohan Gupta (NIT-Jaipur) – the e-waste management solution provider in India.
    To improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.

  3. Dear Shekharji,

    [[ Am Working On A #sH2Ort … Here’s The Mythical Backdrop ]]

    Ganga – The River Goddess

    Ancient mythology personifies Ganga to emerge from Vishnu’s toes. She was persuaded to descend from the skies, in order to purify earth. However, her might threatened to engulf and destroy everything.

    Hence Shiva allowed her to fall on his head, as he meditated on Mt Kailash. Ganga calmed down while flowing around Shiva’s locks, and she could flow down over earth …

    Legends depict the Daughter of The Mountains as an elegant beautiful woman wearing a white crown, holding a pot of water and a water lily in her majestic hands and well-guarded by her pet crocodiles.

    ~ Anupam

  4. Dear Shekharji,

    I always find the truth more funny than any ‘fiction’. 🙂

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  5. Hello Shekhar Sir,

    I absolutely agree on this matter and I myself had bought almost 4 phones before which I have given to my relatives to use, as I believe one should never waste anything specially if it is not environmentally friendly.

  6. Hi Shekhar,

    Long time…you not blogging anymore? If i recollect , it was in early 2007 when I first bumped into and wrote on your blog – things have changed a lot since , you’ve gone silent , maybe you have more interesting things to do , these days?…or are you busy preparing for your next life already ? 🙂 haha.

    I saw your talks with Isha founddation’s sathguru , quite interesting. What you upto these days ? drop me a line , sometime shekhar.


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