When businesses and individuals in the United States find themselves ready to replace old electronic equipment, only one quarter will recycle their tech. Since the vast majority of electronics are sent to landfills rather than refurbished, resold or reused, solid tech waste has grown exponentially in the era of commodified, affordable smartphones and tablets. E-waste presents a unique set of challenges including the wide variety of toxins it contains, the global increase in production and accessibility of tech devices, and the lack of large-scale recycling and disposal infrastructure. With the participation of large corporations, small businesses, and individuals, a conscious effort to reduce e-waste can significantly impact the futures of both the technology sector and the environment.
Electronic devices have lifespans that depend not only upon their ability to continue working, but also upon their compatibility with ever-improving technology. With a large-scale transition to 5G networks occurring globally, companies specializing in safe disposal of e-waste have observed a significant uptick in business due to mass disposal of incompatible devices. As this new network takes hold, consumers are disposing electronic equipment that does not connect to 5G. Further, the rollout of newer tech decreases the value of older devices. The widespread adoption of smartphones, laptops, and tablets is a positive as technology becomes more economically accessible, but more devices also create a greater potential for waste as technology advances in other ways than 5G. The life cycle of electronic devices varies drastically depending on the consumer; some choose to safely dispose of their tech when they are finished, others may seek refurbishing or trade up for a newer device, and the rest will send their devices to landfills as e-waste.
The most dangerous problem with this type of waste is its potential to contain toxic components from explosive lithium-ion batteries to environmentally damaging toxins such as mercury and lead. When tech is sent to landfills, these harmful chemicals can find their way into the environment through water sources, soil, and the air. Exacerbating this issue is the lack of regulation surrounding technology disposal. Only 19 states in the US have specific electronic disposal guidelines, and even so, there is limited oversight to ensure this happens. To minimize the byproducts of e-waste, consumers should dispose of their tech consciously and safely.
While secure disposal is paramount to reducing the environmental impacts of global e-waste, the practice of recycling devices can minimize e-waste itself. Businesses should create plans for the life cycles of their electronic equipment that accounts for reuse, or at least tech-specific disposal. As technology continues to advance, more and more existing devices will inevitably become obsolete and find themselves in landfills. Companies, communities, and individuals have the ability to combat this problem by recycling old devices. Even though e-waste is one of the largest waste issues plaguing modern times, the future of the industry can contain significantly less trash.