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Our E-Waste Problem

illustrated pile of old electronics

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

I read a report recently which declared that more than 5 billion cell phones became so-called e-waste this year, either by being stashed away in people’s houses or simply thrown in the garbage. According to the International Association of Electronic Waste Producer Responsibility Organizations, stacked flat on top of each other, that many disused phones would rise 50,000 kilometers, more than a hundred times higher than the International Space Station. That’s quite a visual representation of a real problem: our unwanted gadgets can pose extensive environmental harm.

I’m guilty of hoarding old phones, computers, and other gadgets because I know of potential for environmental harm from the metals in these devices. These metals (gold, copper, silver, palladium, etc.) can be reused and recycled for other electronics which could lead to fewer raw materials being mined (another environmental issue itself is how we remove these metals from the earth). Experts say that each of us currently is storing at least 11 pounds worth of unused gadgets in our homes. That’s better than tossing them in a landfill, I say, but not by much.

“Smartphones are one of the electronic products of highest concern for us,” said Pascal Leroy, director general of the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, a not-for-profit association representing 46 producer responsibility organizations.

Honestly, our old devices can often be difficult to recycle. That’s a main reason many people hold onto their old phones and laptops. Legislation can help with this. For example, in the European Union, a law was passed recently requiring USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets, and cameras from late 2024. Hallelujah! I have an entire shoebox full of old cables and chargers I can no longer use. This legislation should help us, too, because I don’t see electronics manufacturers designing new gadgets to multiple international standards. It will soon be USB-C for everyone.

Meanwhile, locally there are businesses and municipalities willing to assist with our e-waste. Check with your local city about e-waste days and seek out nearby electronics stores that take back old devices and appliances. Also search online for Georgia-registered Electronics Recycler businesses. Many of them offer free or low-cost pickup or mail services. I’m committed to finally recycling my old devices. Are you?

Editor’s note: The Keep Smyrna Beautiful organization tells me that the Smyrna Recycling Center accepts all kinds of electronics for recycling, including cell phones and all cords! It’s all free with the exception of a $20 fee for TVs and a $10 fee for monitors. Learn more: https://keepsmyrnabeautiful.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/acceptable-item-list.pdf 

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