E-Waste Is Destroying the Environment — Here’s What You Can Do
Although the digital age is a fantastic time for technology, the abundance of electronics has downsides. The environmental impact of e-waste only grows as time goes on. What can the average person do to help?
What Is the Environmental Impact of E-Waste?
Electronic waste — what many people call e-waste — isn’t good for the Earth. It contains various heavy metals and dangerous chemicals — like mercury, lead, and fireproof materials — that negatively impact the planet. They leak into the soil, seep into the water and get into the air.
Plus, these materials don’t naturally break down in the environment. People toss tons of televisions, phones, laptops, tablets, and gaming devices yearly. While they may seem harmless, they stick around for thousands of years. Those who want to be more sustainable should limit how much they toss.
1. Donate Old Devices
Donating is one of the best ways to reduce the harmful effects of e-waste. On top of keeping the original device out of a landfill, it prevents other people from having to get something new. For example, someone who wants to upgrade to a new phone can give their old one away to someone who wants to buy second-hand.
Some people hold onto their old electronics for years after they upgrade. While doing so may be better for the environment than throwing them away, donating them would be even more helpful. They only need to perform a factory reset to be able to give it away.
2. Send E-Waste to a Recycling Center
While some people put off upgrading for as long as possible, nothing works forever. Once technology comes to the end of its life cycle, it’s time to recycle it. Phones, laptops, and televisions have a lot of parts that traditional centers can’t handle, so sending them to the right place is essential.
Proper recycling channels only process 29% of e-waste worldwide. People should make sure they take their old devices to the right place. They can research nearby centers online or call to ask if they can handle electronics.
3. Repair Current Devices
People created over 53 million tons of e-waste in 2019. People often toss their old technology because they break — even though they still usually work with a cracked screen, faulty charging port, or water damage.
Instead of getting a new device, people should send their old one in for repairs. The original manufacturer or a local electronics shop may offer to fix things for a price. This approach can be expensive, but it benefits the environment a lot.
Also, careful maintenance can help people get more use out of what they have. For instance, regularly restarting and cleaning a phone can keep it glitch-free for longer. They can take care of their technology to keep it in better shape and reduce the environmental impact of e-waste.
4. Use a Trade-In Program
People often feel they can’t be sustainable if they get a new device. In reality, many manufacturers recycle them as part of their upgrade system. For example, cellular companies usually offer trade-in deals where someone can send in their old phone.
These programs are beneficial because they make recycling convenient and affordable. Plus, they sometimes even come with huge discounts. However, people need to research what happens after they ship their old electronics back. It’s essential to see if their process is sustainable and if it actually reduces the harmful effects of e-waste.
5. Don’t Upgrade
Since only one-fifth of electronics ever reach a recycling center, experts project that over 120 million tons will enter landfills worldwide each year by 2050. Unless people around the world take action, the environmental impact of e-waste will grow as time goes on.
While recycling is a great approach, reducing the number of new electronics would help more. Instead of upgrading when the latest version releases, people should stick with their current one. It’s as simple as holding on for as long as possible.
6. Advocate for Sustainable Laws
While recycling or holding onto a device for as long as possible is good for the environment, long-term change is only possible with a big impact. People can call for sustainable action to reduce the harmful effects of e-waste for good.
It may sound broad, but some laws already cover the topic. For example, New York state’s Digital Fair Repair Act — what most people know as “The Right to Repair” — helps consumers get parts and instruction manuals from the original manufacturer. It’s in effect as of July 2023. Basically, it forces companies to allow people to fix their devices themselves.
Being an environmental advocate is as easy as calling or writing an email to state representatives. They’re public officials, so their information is available online. It can also involve posting on social media or educating others about e-waste.
7. Personally Recycle Devices
People tend to throw their old laptops, televisions, and mobile devices away. Globally, they only properly recycled a little over 17% of electronics in 2019. While facilities probably received a greater percentage, only some have the right resources to process them.
People can ensure they actually reduce their e-waste if they go through the process themselves. Although it’s only safe with some devices, it’s a sure option. As long as they check local and federal laws before recycling anything, it’s a great approach.
People can reduce the environmental impact of e-waste if they take care of their current devices and recycle them when the time comes. Minor changes can have substantial positive effects down the line.