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Electronics Recycling: Breaking The E-Waste Addiction

black and gray computer keyboard on brown wooden table

You may recently have seen news reports covering the issue with recycling in the UK.  Most of us are now attuned to the fact that we can recycle bottles, tins and paper but more attention is now being focused on electronics recycling.

Here at Hi5 we fully appreciate the fact that the capacity – and therefore power – of microchips doubles every two years.

What once constituted a room full of computers processing data now takes place within the smartwatch on your wrist, so that technology updates constantly.  Equally, we know that some electronic manufacturers launch products with built-in obsolescence – in other words, that they sell the product fully cognizant that it will be superseded and rendered useless by ever-evolving technology.

Apple recently admitted they begin to run the batteries down on their iPhones after a number of years and eventually new operating systems and indeed changing inputs on devices, meaning the user will simply have to upgrade.  And that’s before we get to our children, who simply have to have the latest phone or PlayStation… or their lives will simply be rendered unimaginably tragic.

Your phones, iPads, laptops, chargers (even hair straighteners!) – where does this old tech go?

It may be that it goes into a drawer for a while – out of sight; out of mind – but ultimately, it then leaves the house. And what about the many electric cars on the road… what about their batteries at the end of their usable lives?

The reality is that 80% of our electronics will wind up in a big pile… not in our green and pleasant lands, but in the developing world, where they are happy to take our First World cast-offs… at a price. And this creates what is known as e-waste… a landfill of our old electronic goods.

Just think of your old phone, discarded, and now possibly on top of a pile of old electronics, like a scene from the Pixar movie Wall-E, in somewhere like Nigeria or India.  Ghana alone took nearly 18,000 tonnes of our e-waste in 2011. The UK accounted for half of the e-waste dumped there that year.

Next year the planet’s e-waste is predicted to be 50 million tonnes and that, simply put, is a big pile of electronics.

Perhaps now is that time to start considering ways in which we could help bring that figure down, in much the same way we have accepted recycling in other parts of our lives.

Last year, less than half of our e-waste is recycled, but within two years, regulations mean at least 85% will have to be.  So here are some thoughts about how you might recycle, reuse and help toward reducing that figure:

Firstly, think about your initial purchasing of technology and look to more ethically-minded brands that consider the materials in their devices, as well as their reparability. Think about the overall lifespan of your device and how long you can extend its life.

Of course, all devices eventually die and go to eHeaven, but while we are undoubtedly living in an ‘upgrade’ society, some more progressive-minded people are bucking that trend and looking to repair what they can. There are now places on many high streets that will repair technology and improve its lifespan.  Instead of immediately looking to the bin, what not teach yourself how to fix your tech?  It may even become a hobby!

Much e-waste consists of mobile phones, so consider how many phones you really need, and also how long you can continue with your current phone. Phone companies will always encourage you to upgrade at the earliest opportunity but try to resist that.  And also investigate the different ways you can recycle your phone, or resell for further use in developing countries. EU law covers what is called ‘waste electrical and electronic equipment’ and although they may not know it, stores are actually compelled to take back your old technology and dispose of it appropriately.

If you are still unconvinced, there is also an economic logic behind this move towards greater recycling.  Consider the amount of effort and money extended into mining for ore, for instance, then consider that there are 50 times more precious metals in piles of e-waste than there are in the ground. And that is 43 billion pounds worth of reasons why e-cycling is now clearly the way forward.