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The Environmental and Economic Effect of Large Scale Tech Recycling

The Environmental and Economic Effect of Large Scale Tech Recycling

We look forward to the latest and the greatest in electronic technology, but what about the thousands of obsolete gadgets that get thrown in the skip each year?

E-waste, or electronic waste is any discarded product that's still working, has a battery or something you can plug into an outlet. Smart phones, radios, laptops, computer parts, electric kettles, TVs and washing machines are just some examples of e-waste.

The Alarming Rate of E-waste Generation

People have a lot of obsolete, out-of-date and old electronic items in their homes. In average, there's approximately 80 electronic products per household. In the UK, people spend about £800 each year on brand new models and gadgets. The very same households throw away anywhere between 44 to 55 pounds of electronic waste per year. These discarded items end up in the landfill or in a forgotten area, i.e., the garage or attic.

The United Nations University has reported that the amount of e-junk has risen by about 8% in just two years' time, which was considered the fastest growth in any kind of refuse and about double the number in plastic refuse. In the study, it was found that there were 43 million tons of e-waste items sent to the landfills in the years 2014 to 2016, equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers or 9 Pyramids of Giza in terms of weight. In those lines, only around 8.9 metric tons of the waste were collected and recycled, which was about 20% of the total volume.

The trend of e-waste only gets higher from there, with it being compounded by too little recycling. Researchers predict that the amount of electronic waste will increase to 52.2 million tonnes by the year 2021.

Too much digital debris and not enough recycling is bad for Mother Earth. A large percentage of precious metals, including platinum, gold and silver are used to make smart phones, motherboards, chips and similar products. More than that, a large portion of these are still salvageable- there's about £40 billions' worth of materials that can be recovered each year.

Not all of a smart phone's innards are good for the environment. More often than not, they contain hazardous, dangerous and harmful compounds such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead. These elements can still be reused or even recycled for something good, but when they're thrown in landfills they pose significant health hazard (leeching into the city's water supply) and environmental damage.

Recycling e-waste is the name of the game. You can limit air and water pollution and at the same time make the world a better place to live in.

E-waste Recycling On A Global Scale

E-waste is truly a global pandemic that needs serious attention. It's not only prevalent in the UK but all the other parts of the world as well. All data and statistics call for global efforts on recycling e-waste.

Why should we recycle our old mobile phones? Take a look at the following figures:

- A recycled phone will save enough energy to run a laptop for 40 hours.

- In the U.S., about 130 million smart phones are thrown away each year. If 100% of these were recycled, the amount of energy we save can power a small city for one year.

- A million recycled phones can give back 35,000 lbs of copper, 33 lbs of palladium, 772 lbs of silver and 75 lbs of gold.

- A million phones can save enough energy for 150 households in a year if they were recycled.

These are just some of the benefits we can get if we're mindful on how we dispose of our e-waste products. Responsible recycling may sound tedious but it can save our environment for the future generation.

Recycle or Reuse?

The average household buys a new mobile phone every 1 to 2 years. Once they do, the older phone gathers dust or gets thrown in the bin.

Instead of keeping it in the drawer, why not proactively recycle it?

Working gadgets can be donated to a recycling program, a charity or a goodwill platform to help the less fortunate. Some recycling initiatives work as a fundraiser for a school, a hospital or a community effort.

iPhones can be sent straight to Apple via the Renew program. Recovered material figures are impressive- in 2015, the global tech giant has collected more than 2,000 lbs. of gold, 6,000 lbs. of silver and more than 2.5 million lbs. of copper material from the e-waste.

There are online tech recyclers, like, as well as various other physical shops near your location who would pay a decent price for your phone. So there's really no excuse for not recycling your old gadgets and appliances.

What Happens To Your Old Phone?

The innards and electronic components of a mobile phone, i.e., the batteries, metal and plastics are so useful that it can be broken down or reused to make a completely new product.

Metals can be sent to be reused in industries such as automotive, electronics or jewellery. Plastics can be divided into their respective groups and can be made into auto parts, plastic packaging or garden furniture, among others. Smartphone batteries can be repaired or further broken down to re-make new batteries.

Recycling is a simple matter of remembering not to throw your old phones in the garbage bin. When you're waiting in line for the newest iPhone, laptop or smart device, remember that you can give your gadgets a second lease in life by donating or recycling them, or by selling them to get some of your money back. It's for a good cause!

Article written by -

Stewart McGrenary

Managing Director - Phonesmart Ltd

Author Image

Richard is a seasoned director and a respected authority in the field of renewable energy, leveraging his extensive experience working with and for large PLC's in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) industry.

He has worked on hundreds of projects across the United Kingdom like HS2 and other major critical highways and infrastructure projects, both for the public and private sectors.

He is one of the chief driving forces behind the creation, development, and management of The Renewable Energy Hub, your premier online destination for sustainable energy knowledge and resources.


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