Unboxing a new gadget can be fun and uploading it on Instagram can feel even better. But does anyone ever wonder about our old electronics that are collectively creating a mountain of waste in a landfill somewhere? By 2030, global e-waste is predicted to reach upto 74 million metric tonnes and it poses a huge threat to our environment.
E-waste comprises different forms of discarded electronic appliances that are no longer of value or use. These include smartphones, chargers, earphones, computers, keyboards, television sets, and beyond. A report by Global E-waste Monitor 2020 claims that last year, 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide. Of which, only 17.4% was officially recorded as formally collected and recycled. The rest of it is responsible for 70% of the toxic chemicals found in landfills that contaminate the air, soil and groundwater. Moreover, a lot of the essential materials used in mobile devices have carcinogenic properties. When mishandled, complications like mercury poisoning can arise in the humans that pick and sort these waste piles.Recycling is Key
In 2020, Material Focus launched a UK-wide campaign called ‘Recycle Your Electricals’ motivating and making it easier for everyone to reuse and recycle unwanted electronics. As a part of the initiative, they collaborated with sustainable jewellery brand Lylie’s to create a collection called ‘Five Gold Rings’ made entirely from precious metals recycled from electrical waste, to demonstrate that old electricals can be salvaged and turned into valuable new items. Little did we know that E-waste often consists of precious metals and finite materials that can be upcycled and reused. In fact, recycling electronics can salvage over £850 million worth of precious metals like gold, silver, platinum and palladium.
Sustainable brand Lylie’s frequently uses salvaged gold and silver for their jewellery. According to their data, if you were to mine 1 ton of the earth's ore, you would get a yield of >30g of gold but if you were to mine 1 ton of electronic waste, you would get a yield of 300g of gold. A typical mobile holds 0.2g of gold, and, with an average life expectancy of just 22 months, extracting it and refining it results in a lower carbon footprint than ordinarily-mined gold.A Shift in Mindset is Needed
While electronics aren’t released on a fortnightly basis like fast fashion, the need to buy them stems from a similar type of urge. The innate need of wanting to be accepted, which like fast fashion, tech companies are also able to quickly tap into. Getting the latest phone has become a symbol of wealth and status. And increasingly, they’re mixed up with the ideology that using an old gadget indicates that the consumer isn’t affording whereas the consumer with the latest tech is. But this isn’t a consumer psyche issue but one that has been perpetuated by capitalism. Tech giants tend to offer a limited warranty period on their gadgets that aren’t eligible for free repairs just in time of their latest release. Urging the consumer to pay a hefty fee to mend their old device or relinquish it in favour of a new one.
If we are to save the environment from increasing e-waste, a systemic change must be in order but until then, making a conscious effort to recycle your electronics is vital.
Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2021-01-16