Since the turn of the computer era, obsolescence has been an issue to both consumers and producers. Some manufacturers have exploited this hurdle by implementing planned obsolescence in their products. This means that gadgets will have their own ‘expiration dates’, where they will work poorer and poorer across the years. Consumers will be more inclined to buy the latest version of technology. However, this manipulation has caused a rise in the number of mobile devices, TV’s, laptops and printers thrown away in landfills across the world. Modern environmental awareness shows the true extent of the reckless disposal of electronics, and the term e-waste has been coined.
The planet is heavily affected by the threat of e-waste, but many do not understand the magnitude of the damage. 41.8 million tons of E-waste were thrown out in 2014. The amount of e-waste produced is rapidly increasing. It is a priority to lower this number and to reap the rewards of recycling. Despite this only 6.5 million tons were reprocessed. From an environmental perspective, every ton of mobile phone materials recovered prevents 10 tons of greenhouse gases leaking into the atmosphere. Throwing out electronics translates into a massive loss of precious metals and other resources. In fact, recycling 50,000 handsets can remove the need to mine 110 tonnes of gold ore, 213 tonnes of silver bearing ore or 11 tonnes of copper sulphide ore. Simply pulling apart and reusing old electronic components can add centuries to Earth’s life.
In the late 1980’s the world was outraged to learn that organisations were shipping hazardous waste to developing countries where recycling methods were unsafe and unregulated. They simply shipped them as donations, and it went straight through the law. In 2002, the Basel Action Network and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released an alarming report. It found that 50 to 80% of e-waste collected for recycling in the United States was being exported to developing nations such as China, India and Pakistan, where the pollution exposed men, women and children to harmful toxins.
Those inexperienced with computers are sometimes unaware of the security risks that come with disposing a device. Sensitive data can easily be stolen when a computer is not within the hands of the owner. The main memory unit in most computers is a hard drive. It stores data by creating permanent etchings on a disk. Even when data is deleted through software, it still remains in hardware. In reality, the only way to be sure that this information is deleted is to smash the drive entirely. When a computer is sent to a landfill, it is not checked for security flaws such as this, and is thrown out regardless. Hackers can easily discover files, internet activity and credit-card transactions using off-the-shelf data recovery tools. Who knows whom this information will be sold to, dirt-cheap?
The priceless technological innovations of the modern day force people to be constantly upgrading to new devices. As landfills fill up with obsolete E-waste, irreparable damage to the environment, developing countries, and personal privacy spawns. It is only a matter of time before the exponential growth in the amount of E-waste disrupts society as a whole. Despite this, a beacon of hope stands in the form of tech recycling companies. Organisations such as Mobile Muster and TechCollect not only prevent the damages of computer disposal, but also provide materials to be fed back into the cycle of production. So the next time you have an old device, remember that responsible recycling leads to a better planet for us all!