Here’s What You Should Do With That Drawer Full of Old Gadgets

Decades of pressure from the tech sector has led to a long list of “new or die” useful and attractive home tech products, but many of these devices also need to be replaced at roughly the same rapid rate that new technology emerges.

The result of this so-called planned obsolescence, with a limited number of options for repairing old equipment over the years, is a tsunami of electronic waste, also known as e-waste. And the consequences extend far beyond the headache of figuring out what to do with the clutter that has accumulated inside your home.

“Planned obsolescence makes it worse,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based e-waste watchdog. People now expect to get a new computer every three or four years, one every two years. New phone.” group. “It’s a mountain that just keeps on growing.”

The most recent UN data indicates that the world generated 53.6 metric tons of e-waste in 2019, and only 17.4% of that was recycled. The burden and loss of e-waste often falls on people in developing countries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that “an indeterminate quantity of used electronics from the United States and other developed countries is shipped to developing countries, which refuse imports or lack the ability to handle these materials appropriately.” keep.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last year that increased e-waste disposal and processing could have “adverse effects on children’s health”, including changes in lung function, DNA damage and some chronic diseases such as cancer. risk may increase. and heart disease later in life.

In addition, more than 18 million children and adolescents are “actively engaged” in the informal e-waste processing industry, the WHO warned. Children and teenagers are often used to scouring through mountains of e-waste in search of valuable materials such as copper and gold “because their little hands are more efficient than adults,” the WHO said. he said.

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The issue of e-waste is “about environmental justice on a global scale,” Puckett said. “It’s about preventing rich countries from dumping their waste and dirty technologies on developing countries.”

A man sits in front of electronic waste or e-waste from a computer at a workshop in New Delhi, India, in July 2020.

The growing environmental crisis is now attracting the attention of lawmakers from Europe to the United States, as well as communities in developing countries where e-waste has historically been offshore.

EU officials last month approved a new law that requires all phones and electronics to use a standard, brand-agnostic charger, with the ability to limit how many different devices the average consumer needs. Separate wiring is required. Three progressive US lawmakers urged in a letter to the US to follow suit.

Censors Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders said the novel EU policy “has the potential to significantly reduce e-waste and help consumers who are full of clogged chargers to find a compatible charger, or to buy Tired of rummaging through junk drawers. A new one,” in a letter addressed to the US Secretary of Commerce. Senators pointed to the bipartisan hot topic of “taking on powerful technology companies” in the interest of consumers and the environment.

For now, however, regulation around e-waste mainly exists at the state level and there are few. Signs of federal policy going forward in the near future. In its absence, the onus remains on consumers and companies to take the initiative and find better ways to deal with old electronics.

What consumers and companies can do about it

When Corey Dehmi worked in corporate IT departments, he had To find out what to do with the company’s hundreds of computers that were no longer up to date. Now, as executive director of the non-profit Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), he is part of a group trying to tackle the e-waste crisis by strengthening collaboration between government, the private sector and consumers.

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“E-waste is the result of not planning the product throughout its lifecycle,” Dehmi said. “We’re reacting to a problem we created years ago. And so if we want to get to the front of this thing, we have to think about these things – what are we designing for and what are we as consumers Buying too.”

To do this, SERI introduced and oversees its own certification standards for e-waste recycling, which ensure that facilities are properly disposing of e-waste. It also organizes events for businesses and other stakeholders and engages in advocacy work to pressure companies and governments to adopt a more sustainable approach to developing electronics.

“We have to figure out ways to use [an electronic device] In the long run, repair it, reuse it,” Dehmi said, noting that it will require a change of mindset from both consumers and companies.

In recent months, there has been some cause for optimism on this front. The rise in e-waste has increased pressure on manufacturers to ease restrictions on fixing equipment for individuals and independent repair shops in a push known as the “rights to repair” movement. President Joe Biden passed an executive order last year directing the Federal Trade Commission to issue rules allowing companies to do DIY repairs, and the FTC vowed to “root out” illegal repair restrictions .
Now, some tech companies have started initiatives to help repair old gadgets. Earlier this year, Apple and Samsung launched their self-service repair stores, which offer parts for users seeking do-it-yourself fixes for their smartphones. Google has made similar promises for repairing Pixel phones that will be available to the public later this year.
A sea of ​​electronic waste six feet high covers the landscape at the Westmoreland Cleanway and Recycling in Unity, Pa., on Friday, March 24, 2017.

Various alliances have also emerged in recent years to give consumers the option to dispose of their devices responsibly. For example, Puckett helped launch the e-waste recycling initiative e-Stewards, which certifies and audits electronics recycling to ensure they properly dispose of e-waste using “very stringent standards.” are settling.

With this tool, consumers can find recycling centers near them. SERI also offers an online tool to find a certified recycling center.

Jeff Seibert (yes, that’s his real title), lead provocateur at Seri, also recommends consumers check with their local municipality to see if they have a specified plan for recycling e-waste. No. A handful of U.S. retailers, including Staples and Best Buy, also have programs that let consumers bring in e-waste for recycling in the absence of comprehensive infrastructure. Other companies, including Apple, have programs offering credit or free recycling in exchange for trading in used gadgets.

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Before choosing to donate or recycle used electronics, the EPA recommends considering upgrading a computer’s hardware or software rather than purchasing a new product. If you decide to recycle, the EPA urges consumers to remove any batteries that may need to be recycled separately. The agency says recycling one million laptops saves energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 American homes a year. The agency says up to 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered for every million cell phones recycled.

In addition to these options, Siebert urges consumers to start thinking of electronics the same way we think of cars: We don’t trash our vehicles when we need new tires or have a crack in the windshield. We do.

“Everybody wants to do the right thing,” Seibert said. “So we have to give them the resources to be able to do that, and it’s still a work in progress.”

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