By B.N. Frank
Materials needed to make digital, electronic, and wireless devices and infrastructure are often referred to as “Conflict Minerals” because of their devastating environmental and humanitarian impacts. This includes how they contribute to toxic Electronic Waste or “E-Waste” dumped in landfills.
In 2020, the U.N. warned that 82% of E-Waste is NOT being recycled (see 1, 2, 3). One E-Waste recycler is making progress; however, according to some researchers, Big Tech should take more responsibility to reduce this growing ecologically disastrous problem.
Of course, with COVID concerns, Big Tech may be creating more products than ever before so reducing E-Waste may not be a huge priority. In the meantime, one group dissected nearly 100 devices and reported the depressing results.
From Fast Company:
We dissected nearly 100 devices to study e-waste. What we found is alarming
The very innovations that are reducing how much e-waste Americans produce are also making products harder to repair and recycle.
It’s hard to imagine navigating modern life without a mobile phone in hand. Computers, tablets, and smartphones have transformed how we communicate, work, learn, share news, and entertain ourselves. They became even more essential when the COVID-19 pandemic moved classes, meetings, and social connections online.
But few people realize that our reliance on electronics comes with steep environmental costs, from mining minerals to disposing of used devices. Consumers can’t resist faster products with more storage and better cameras, but constant upgrades have created a growing global waste challenge. In 2019 alone, people discarded 53 million metric tons of electronic waste.
In our work as sustainability researchers, we study how consumer behavior and technological innovations influence the products that people buy, how long they keep them, and how these items are reused or recycled.
Our research shows that while e-waste is rising globally, it’s declining in the U.S. But some innovations that are slimming down the e-waste stream are also making products harder to repair and recycle.