49.8 million tons, 9023 times a second! This is how many electronics have been thrown away in 2018 and how many phones are ‘binned’ every second. (Water Bear Network)

Electronic waste or e-waste is growing into a major problem for many countries around the world; E-waste is particularly bad for these countries and their environments because of the substantial amounts of toxic substances used to create these devices. This problem is growing fast as recyclers and third world countries are constantly being bombarded with tens of millions of tons of e-waste every year. The devices that we seem to not be able to live without, our phones, our earbuds, and our laptops, are becoming increasingly smaller, less metallic, and overall harder to recycle, resulting in even more waste.

One major problem with solving the crisis is that there is such a mass supply of phones and other devices that recyclers are being “bombarded” with, to such a degree that recycling companies like Sims Recycling solutions are struggling to keep up: “most people prefer to get rid of their current cellphone every 20 months or so when a better model inevitably comes out.” This “new device” trend strains our natural resources and is wasteful. According to Joe McCarthy, a writer at the Global Citizen, more than 5 billion people across the globe own cell phones, and many people are regularly buying new ones. Consumer Reports further supports this notion by stating that, “more than 1.5 billion cell phones will ship in 2021. That’s around 1 for every 5 people alive.”

Multi-national billion-dollar companies are using dangerous and toxic chemicals for their own personal profits.

The recycling process needed for these devices is not only extremely dangerous, but it has also become harder and harder to achieve. As many people may have noticed, newer devices are getting smaller and more efficient; the part they do not see, however, is that these smaller devices are harder to recycle, use less metallic parts and they use different chemicals that, if not disposed of properly, can be very damaging to the environment. According to Sean Magann, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Sims Recycling Solutions, “desktop computers were once made out of almost 100% metals and these metals were easy to recover; now more items are plastic based, and the average size of each device has decreased.” Devices today are smaller and contain less metals that recyclers can sell to “stay afloat” in a heavily capitalistic society; this has led to recyclers to not be able to keep up with the steadily growing number of phones being “binned.” Many devices will not be accepted by recyclers because there are so few metals in it that it would cost more to take apart then to purchase it. According to a United Nations report, 53.6 million tons of e-waste was “binned” during 2019, yet only 17.4 percent of it was properly disposed of.

E-waste contains very toxic chemicals that leeches into the surrounding environment and poisons everything in the area. These toxic chemicals are being used by tech companies to create “new and improved” devices, that no one truly needs. Alexandra Ossola, a writer at Popular Science news blog writes that, “e-waste only takes up two percent of what is deposited in landfills, yet it is responsible for around 70 percent of the toxic waste that is found there.” Using these chemicals in the creation of these devices is solely to increase the profit of multi billion-dollar companies. These chemicals not only poison the environment, if not disposed of properly, but they also create a more dangerous workplace for people trying to recycle and recover materials from these old devices. “These workers are exposed to nickel, cadmium, and mercury, among other toxic fumes, which leak into the surrounding air, ground and drinking water,” states Vox writer Peter Holgate.

Due to the toxicity of many of these chemicals, many countries try to put off the issue at hand and send these materials to different countries that may not be considered “first world countries. According to Vox, one example of this was the Motorola Razr. After the Razr’s sales started to “die off” in North America, they sent all these left-over phones to South America. The Global Citizen’s Joe McCarty writes that “a lot of countries simply ship their e-waste to other countries, where toxic e-waste substances like lead, cadmium, and mercury cause environmental and health problems. In 2016, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put tracking devices on 200 discarded devices in the US and followed them to Hong Kong, Mexico, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Canada, and Kenya, demonstrating the sprawling nature of e-waste management.” Sending this problem overseas hides what these companies truly use to make our phones and other devices out of; these companies need to start fixing this issue now, before the harm to people and the planet become irreparable.

E-waste has developed into a steadily growing problem that many countries are struggling to contain, due to mass production and toxicity in devices that we can’t seem to live without. Multi-national billion-dollar companies are using dangerous and toxic chemicals for their own personal profits, and not taking into account the environment or the lives of the people trying to “recycle” this issue. As a world community we have a duty to think twice about buying new devices, and contributing to this ongoing global issue.

Feature photo curtesy of jpminda.com
Contrast photo curtesy of sustainability.au and apple.com