With the latest and greatest advancements in tech getting updated every year now, electronics seem to have a shorter and shorter lifespan. Everyone has to have the most up-to-date model available. And because people can now store their entire life in data, the longer you hold on to a device, the more you’ll lose when that planned obsolescence kicks in.
But, what happens to all the old electronics? Well, they generally end up in one of three places — a recycling center, a secondhand retailer or a landfill. Unfortunately, landfills see the majority of unwanted devices.
This may be in part because people are unaware of how easy it is to recycle their electronics, or that they don’t know how useful their devices are, even broken. Most of the parts can be reused to create something new, which is helpful to the environment and creates more sustainability in the tech market.
The Importance of E-Waste
Part of the reason not enough people recycle is that they don’t know how important the issue of e-waste really is. Electronics that are trashed rather than recycled create a surprising amount of unnecessary waste each year.
Some of the most significant issues attributed to e-waste are:
1. Wasted Materials and Money
In the silver and gold content of cell phones alone, Americans throw away $60 million per year — and that’s not counting the rest of the recyclable metals and plastics. That’s money sitting in landfills that could be going back into manufacturing processes and new devices.
As people toss out more and more materials, there are less available to create new technology. The cost of mining new elements and metals and processing them is high, using far more energy than recycling old products already made of refined materials. By continuing mining instead of promoting the reuse of existing pieces, we are practically throwing money into our landfills.
2. Environmental Damage and Health Risks
Hazardous chemicals leach from disposed of electronics. They contaminate nearby water, soil and the environment as a whole, affecting the health of humans, animals and plants alike. In some cases, the chemicals can easily make their way into the food chain by contaminating water and soil, then fish and crops, then the humans who eat them.
Even though discarded devices are a minority in the grand scheme of landfills, they account for up to 70% of all toxic waste. Lead, mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, polyvinyl chloride and flame retarding chemicals all exist within the devices. When incinerated or left to seep out of the protective casings, these hazardous elements can cause health problems like cancer, reproductive disorders, endocrine system issues and more.
3. Unrecorded Statistics
If you think the current e-waste statistics are bad, it’s important to know that not all countries are paying close attention. Only 41 countries total have official statistics, meaning there’s a lot more waste than is being counted.
Also, the U.S. has created dumping problems in China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana from exporting e-waste under the guise of recycling. Count that in, and we’ve got more e-waste than we can possibly know. And the piles just keep growing. It’s time to turn to an alternative.
Recycling and Repurposing Old Electronics
People who live in places without mandated electronic waste recycling likely won’t think of it first when it comes time to upgrade. A lot of people store or hold on to old, outdated or broken devices, whether they use them or not. So, rather than restore some of the limited material supply, the electronics sit and gather dust.
Other people refuse to let go of them because they don’t know where to recycle mobile phones and other devices, don’t want to pay for it or think it’s a complicated process. Safety is also a concern, as smartphones and laptops hold tons of personal data and sensitive information within their hardware.
However, recycling is likely easier and safer than you think.
In many cases, getting your outdated device to a reliable recycling facility or manufacturer that offers the same services is as easy as mailing it in a pre-paid package or dropping it off in an enclosed kiosk. With the rising need for decreasing the amount of e-waste we produce, many programs offer their services for free — some will even pay you for your old devices.
It’s also reasonably easy to check whether or not a business is reliable and safe. Look for companies that have R2 certification, meaning they follow the Responsible Recycling Standard created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can usually find out on their website or in a comprehensive list of R2 certified recycling businesses.
The R2 certification requires that each company that applies follows a particular set of processes, uses safety measures and remains transparent about their entire business. You can feel safe and secure in knowing you’re recycling with an R2 certified center.
While it’s certainly beneficial for you, recycling old electronics is also positive for other people and the environment. Your devices can be almost 100% recycled, meaning less waste in landfills and less hazardous materials seeping into soil and water supplies. It also means less need to mine new materials, saving power expenditures.
The more devices there are to recycle, the more jobs reclaim centers create. Every time you opt to recycle electronics rather than throw them away, you’re helping create jobs for individuals while saving the Earth.
Recycling devices has so many benefits, and it’s so easy to do. There’s no contest about which route to take.
Reselling Devices Through a Retailer
Continual improvements from electronics manufacturers have drastically increased the turnover rate of devices. In conjunction, many cell phone service providers offer upgrade contract incentives, some that guarantee you a new model every year or two.
Everyone knows cell phones last far longer than two years, but the pace of new developments creates a tech FOMO that’s hard to shake. Just as you finish paying off that new phone, it becomes socially obsolete. Companies bank on this — they want you to buy the latest device every time. It’s a big part of the reason e-waste levels are so high.
But, even if you no longer want your old phone, laptop, tablet, MP3 player or any other electronic, it may still be useable.
Secondhand retailers can refurbish and resell almost any device that’s in working condition. Even with a minimally cracked screen or scuffed up casing and a few years of use, your device is still worth some money. To someone else, it might be an affordable alternative to having no computer or phone at all. To others, it could even be a collectible.
Reselling might just be the most efficient method of recycling devices, as it uses 100% of the materials. However, the thought of handing over a phone or other electronic to a stranger can make some people uncomfortable.
Companies that pay you for your old device and resell it will often provide you with instructions on how to clear your phone’s data. This way, you can ensure your information is safe before sending it to the middleman.
How Useful Is Recycled E-Waste?
While some electronics are still useable, many others are too obsolete or broken to be worth anything in the secondhand device market. These are referred to as end-of-life devices. Many useful things can still be made from electronic waste if they are recycled and parted into their base materials.
By separating and processing the elements in electronics, recycling facilities create a supply of raw materials. Manufacturers can then reclaim and use these materials in all kinds of new products.
The electronics go through several phases to be recycled, though the process may vary in different areas. Generally, in the first phase, each device is dismantled and sorted into its individual pieces — casing, screen, microchips, wires and so on. Recyclers remove any components that might explode in the shredding machine, such as rechargeable batteries or cartridges.
Then, further processes divide the pieces into several material groupings that can be reused to make other products:
1. Reusable Accessories
Some centers part out and reuse whole pieces to refurbish other devices of the same brands. More often than not, though, the pieces are broken down smaller and reprocessed.
However, using the pieces and materials from old electronics to create new versions of the same devices is referred to as “closed-loop” recycling, and is something that manufacturers are striving to attain. For example, Apple and Dell produce new products made from recycled e-waste, using their old products to create new devices from the same broken down metals and materials. With more people choosing to recycle, the goal of a 100% closed loop system becomes closer to reality.
There are many plastic pieces in the casings and internal workings of old phones, laptops and other electronics. These are melted, remolded and used in new electronics or other products.
Some of these uses include home appliances, refrigerators, office furniture, playground equipment, lawn chairs, car parts, containers and anything made from recycled plastics. This is one of the most widely reusable materials that electronics contain.
3. Precious Metals
Facilities use separation and smelting processes to pull precious metals from the rest of the components. To remove gold from its metal or plastic housing, processors can either use a compound to chemically strip the gold or melt down the pieces and grind them. The process of smelting burns off or removes impurities from the element, leaving the pure metal behind.
These recycled precious metals can then go on to become dental fillings, microchips, jewelry, coins or even bullion, which can be saved and stored for selling or later use.
4. Hard Metals
Copper, aluminum, zinc, titanium, iron and steel are common metals in electronic devices. Iron and steel pieces are separated from the rest through magnets, as they are both ferrous materials. Non-ferrous metals require eddy currents, which sort the different materials by creating an electromagnetic field that throws the metals at different distances, based on their natural electric conductivities.
Recycled iron, steel and aluminum are essential in construction, automobiles, airplanes, tools, home items like lamps, appliances and a broad range of other uses. Copper and zinc can be used to produce conductive wiring, cables, piping and other pieces for new electronics. Titanium may find a new life in a bicycle frame, vehicle body, set of golf clubs or new devices. With the number of metals that are recyclable from e-waste, there are so many options.
Apart from recycling the individual elements, repurposing allows you to save entire units. If you’ve got a creative eye and a knack for DIY projects, you can create several cool things made with old electronics, including art, home decor and various other crafts.
The Benefits of Electronic Waste Recycling
Electronics are filled with individual elements that can create new products. Recycling them helps the environment as well as manufacturers, mining companies and other countries.
It takes less energy to recycle the individual pieces of electronic products than it does to mine and process virgin material. Some of the materials are unreplenishable, so once we run out of available or reachable ore, there won’t be more to mine. Recycling metals from devices puts less stress on mining for new ones and decreases energy usage — double win.
Also, the precious metals encased in electronic devices have already been processed, making the turnaround time shorter. These metals are actually 40 to 50 times richer than metal deposits found in newly mined ore. So, the process of reclaiming gold and silver is far easier.
Repurposing electronic devices can use nearly the entirety of the materials, so every person who chooses to recycle is helping keep hazardous toxins and chemicals out of the environment. It’s great news for the nearby ecosystems and animals, but also for humans, too. Less e-waste also means less illegal dumping in other countries, which can reduce the amount of future toxic waste the nearby communities face.
With continued efforts and further developments, we could potentially see a successful model of closed-loop recycling, where new electronics are made entirely from repurposed e-waste. However, to get to that goal, a vast majority of electronics consumers need to support companies that offer recycling services. The good news is it’s not too late to start.
Easily Recycle Your Old Devices With ecoATM
With ecoATM, recycling your old devices is a breeze. In three easy steps, you can trade your outdated phones, MP3 players and tablets for cash on the spot, or deposit them for safe recycling.
All you have to do is locate one of our ecoATM kiosks, bring your charged device and a valid state ID, place it in the scanner to get an evaluation and receive a competitive cash payment for its value — no hidden fees or catches. Don’t worry — our machines are incredibly secure. We’re backed by R2 certification and will alert the authorities in the case of detected cell phone theft or a false identity claim.
We have 4,000 kiosks located across the country for your convenience. We’ll recycle any type of device, even broken ones, as well as their charging cables.
From the kiosk, your device will go through processes to ensure it hasn’t been previously stolen and that you’ve completely cleared the data. Then, we’ll refurbish and resell the electronics or, if they’re unusable, send them to be recycled.
EcoATM wants to help you get rid of your drawer full of old devices while helping the environment stay a little bit cleaner. Find a kiosk near you to trade your clutter for cash today, or contact us with any questions or concerns.