Cleaning Up in the Global E-Waste Industry
Use of digital gadgetry continues to rocket dizzyingly upward. Today, there are more mobile phones around the globe than people in the world. Our population just topped 7.2 billion—phones are increasing at five times the rate we are. Last year alone consumers snapped up 2.5 billion gizmos, and our love affair has only just begun.
But that’s good right? Saving the trees? No more planes, trains or automobiles spewing fossil fuels? Always connected, sharing my heart beat with someone I love? Charting my weight loss, checking my stocks, on my watch?
A Carbon Footprint to Crush All Footprints
But what sort of carbon footprint are we leaving with all this reaching out and touching each other? And who’s checking that our upgrade doesn’t downgrade the quality of our environment, entirely deplete our resources, and irreversibly pollute our world?
According to Greenpeace, 48 pounds of chemicals, 1.5 tons of water, and 539 pounds of fossil fuel get gobbled up to make our next ever-cooler-I-want-it-gotta-have-it computer and monitor. And when we’re through with our toys, we toss them in a landfill, often not bothering to reclaim the precious materials they contain. There they sit forever because they cannot break down. Screens, batteries, and tubes break open, leaching mercury, lead and other dangerous waste into groundwater, the filtration of which is becoming increasingly difficult, requiring the use of advanced industrial water filters.
What Price for Paradise?
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing mound of toxic muck we’ve ever built up just to stay connected, growing exponentially, and with nowhere to go. It’s made up of all the wonderful gadgets we buy and play with and take with us wherever we go and whatever we do and then mindlessly dump when we’re through.
- Every 4 seconds, in the USA alone, a cell phone gets tossed into a landfill
- Guesstimates are we’re piling up about 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste each year—about 7 kg for every one of us on this little blue planet third from the sun
- Every mobile has up to 1000 components; other e-devices are similar
- As much as 80% of the carbon footprint of a mobile phone occurs in its production. Those parts may contain lead, mercury, and cadmium, among other heavy chemicals that eventually get dumped into a landfill or incinerated
- Every mobile contains about 19% copper and 8% iron
- Phones, computers, and late-model televisions can also contain silver, gold, copper, and rare metals, like palladium; recyclable, if we want it
E-junk removal and recycle programs are beginning to catch on, mostly in developing countries where much of our e-waste ends up. So we can choose to recycle our gizmos and repurpose our gadgets. Recycling even one million of the eight billion (and counting) cell phones in the world can save this much stuff:
- 35,274 pounds of copper
- 772 pounds of silver
- 75 pounds of gold
- 33 pounds of palladium, a rare and beautiful metal
Second Life for our Phones, Computers, & TVs
The advantage of second life cycles for our phones and other devices and recapturing precious metals and rare earths from e-waste is not just an economic opportunity or environmental no-brainer, although it’s certainly both of those things.
It’s a chance to turn 50 million tons of toxic waste generated each year around the world into green jobs, reusing resources that have lots of life left in them, and lowering costs of future products by recapturing rare and expensive materials for recycling. Gold just doesn’t lose its value no matter what you do to it.
The e-waste industry’s junk removal effort makes sure that our once ever-so-precious gadget finds a good home when it’s yesterday’s news to us. E-junk removal ensures we retain and recycle the precious elements in our gadgets and save our environment from their impact. Our tiny toys get a new home, we stay green, and our earth, stays blue.