How to Recycle Electronics and Reduce E-waste

E-waste includes phones, laptops, monitors, tablets, and headphones. It's important to find out the best way to dispose of electronics (e-waste) because the battery or plug can contain contains toxic and hazardous substances. Not to mention, recycling can encourage a more circular economy.

In 2019, the world generated 53.6 million metric tonnes(Mt) of e-waste, but only 9.3 million Mt (17%) was collected and recycled. These everyday electronic products are made from valuable materials like gold, aluminum, palladium, platinum, lithium, and copper. Extracting and processing these materials requires large amounts of energy and produces greenhouse gas emissions. When we discard these products, all this energy is wasted and these valuable materials get lost.

Furthermore, e-waste contains highly toxic materials. In developing countries, workers disassemble the e-waste using methods like open-air burning and acid baths, resulting in irreversible health effects such as cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage, and diminished IQs.

How can we reduce e-waste?

1. Reduce

Tech companies launch new product models every few months, and it's difficult to resist the impulse to buy the latest one.

But did you know that a new smartphone generates around 85 kilograms in emissions in its first year of use? 95% of these emissions come from manufacturing processes.

Extending the life of our perfectly working existing phones could significantly cut down these emissions and help us reduce our digital carbon footprint.

2. Repair

Buying a new device is often easier than getting your existing one repaired. However, repairing it can extend the life of the gadget and prevent the manufacture of yet another device. Plus, it can save you hundreds of dollars.

Let’s say you start noticing faster battery drain on your iPhone 11. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars to replace your phone, you can order a replacement battery and fix kit for just $40 from iFixit. They also offer step-by-step guides and community support for most gadgets.

3. Refurbish

If replacement is the only option, consider buying a refurbished gadget. These electronics have been repaired for resale, and they’re cheaper than new models. By buying a refurbished gadget, you’re keeping existing resources in use and preventing the need of new material generation. 

You can find refurbished gadgets on marketplaces like Swappa or BackMarket, or at retailers like Apple or BestBuy.

When your devices are truly at the end of their lifecycle, consider recycling them. Curbside recycling facilities are not equipped to handle electronics like phones, smart plugs, smoke detectors, hair dryers, and vacuum cleaners — but you have other options.

3 Ways to Responsibly Recycle Electronics

Donate your tech

Charities or non-profits can use your working (or non-working) tech. Check with local organizations, especially ones that cater to students, to see if they have any need for your old computers, phones, or other tech.

If you want to donate your computer, you can do it through the World Computer Exchange.

Trade in with the manufacturer

Check with the device manufacturer to see if they offer a trade-in program. You can recycle Apple or Google products through their trade-in and recycling program. Microsoft also has a trade-in program to trade your old devices in for credit toward your next purchase.

Find a drop-off electronics disposal

Locate a recycler through Earth911 or e-stewards.org. Alternatively, you could do a quick Google search for "electronic recycling near me." To ensure responsible and ethical recycling, choose a recycler with the E-Steward label on their website.

Retailers such as Best Buy, Staples and even Goodwill also accept e-waste for recycling. You can drop off your e-waste and sometimes even earn rewards.

If you have batteries to recycle, Call2Recycle has a battery recycling locator. It is important to distinguish between your single-use and rechargeable batteries when recycling.

The most effective way to tackle the menace of e-waste is by reducing our consumption of electronic gadgets and responsibly recycling them when we can no longer use them. Remember, every small step counts towards protecting our planet.

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