Last month, the newest iPhone became available for purchase. According to Apple, in just three days more than 13 million units of their newest gadget had been sold around the world. It’s highly unlikely that 13 million individuals needed brand-new phones, but the culture of electronics encourages constant updates: Newer is better, and a better option is always right around the corner. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average phone is replaced every 18 months, and we don’t always think about what happens to technology once it’s out of our hands.
Statistics show that in the U.S., we throw out 2-3 million tons of electronics each year. Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide, due to the high-speed consumerism that comes with constant-evolving technology. According to the EPA, televisions and computers each contain an average of four pounds of lead, as well other toxic substances such as chromium, mercury and zinc. When put in landfills, these toxins leak into the earth and pollute groundwater. Smartphones have a slew of precious metals in them: gold, silver, platinum, copper and rare-earth metals such as Yttrium, Lanthanum, Neodymium are all present in the pocket-sized computers. According to 911 Metallurgist, on average, phones hold anywhere from 6-300 times more precious metal than the equivalent amount of ore from a mine. And currently, less than 1 percent of rare earth minerals are recycled.
Tempting as it is to snag the fastest, newest models as soon as they come out, it’s important to use electronics for as long as possible and not jump to replace them before they’re in poor condition. Then, when technology is no longer useable, recycle it. We’re incredibly lucky to live in a place where it’s easy to recycle not only electronics, but all sorts of materials. CU Recycling has formed a partnership with The Wireless Alliance to reuse and recycle old cellphones. You can drop off old phones, chargers, batteries and portable music devices at the UMC, Darley Commons in Williams Village and Norlin Library to be recycled. You can also recycle old batteries on campus at several locations through Environmental Health and Safety.
Boulder is home to the first hard-to-recycle facility in the nation. CHaRM, Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials, has been recycling everything from light bulbs to yoga mats since 2001. CHaRM, 6400 Arapahoe Road, works with Electronics Recyclers International — a company certified to assure electronic scrap is safely processed within developed countries and not shipped abroad to pollute water and land. Also check out Eco-Cycle’s A to Z Recycling Guide to find out how to recycle, compost, or reuse just about anything.
Make the sustainable choice, and think twice before throwing things away, especially when it comes to electronics. Even though we can’t see the effects of e-waste once it’s out of our site, the pollution that comes from technology is rapidly impacting the well-being of the planet.
The CU Environmental Center’s ‘Down to Earth’ runs every other week in the Colorado Daily.