How Recycling Your Personal Electronics Can Benefit Society

Credit: Matthew Hurst, FlickrCC

The sheer number of consumer electronics produced per year is enough to make anyone’s head spin. When one considers how many of these devices have been produced since they became widely available, it is hard to understand how there is enough demand and physical space for them. Any regular user of these devices knows they quickly go out of style as new technology comes along. But many people do not consider what happens to the devices that have been phased out of modern use. Seeing as they are made from materials that do not decompose naturally, they need to be disposed of properly so as not to cause damage in any capacity. Plastics and metals can be some of the most damaging elements to animals or natural environments. Seeing as many waste companies are simply looking to dispose rather than reuse, these elements regularly end up causing harm. Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, summed this up, “There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”

There may be some curiosity surrounding what recycling is capable of. Therefore, we connected with a few people in the know to discover how recycling your personal electronics can benefit society 

Deadly substances

Chris Bridges is the CEO of VITAL, a brand offering credit cards that pay you to share and spend. He believes recycling personal electronics greatly benefits wildlife.

“When was the last time you went to visit a state park and you saw piles of old cell phones or computers going in the area? This doesn’t happen for good reason – the plastics and metals that make up these items are incredibly harmful to anything that is living. For example, as these electronics age, they begin to release chemicals such as mercury or lead. If plants or animals needed either of these, they would be naturally present somewhere in nature. However, they’re not and we should do our best not to introduce them. The more these items are placed in nature, the more widespread their damage will be so we need to start recycling these items as soon as possible.”

More is less

Carvaygo specializes in vehicle shipping operations. Their Director of Marketing and Communications, Drew Sherman, suggests recycling electronic waste contributes to humans leaving a smaller footprint on the world.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of electronics you buy or are being produced, many of the elements which make up electronics are mined. There are things such as gold, tin, silver and more. But, if we were to repurpose these elements from old hardware that is collecting dust in the corner, it would save everyone a lot of headaches. Earth only has so many natural resources before we run out. If these mines are the only source of elements to make electronics, we’re going to run out even earlier than we anticipated. From a production efficiency standpoint and an environmental awareness standpoint, recycling old electronics makes too much sense – more recycling means less wasteful use.”

Energy

Some are familiar with the old phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” Cottage is a business providing planning, designing, and building a custom ADU in the bay area. Their Head of Architecture and Design, Anamika Goyal, considers this phrase wise. 

“I think one of the bad looks that green initiatives can get is that they’re not financially smart for those who get involved. This is not always the case. In fact, there are some examples of an old item being recycled with the intention of repurposing it for a newer one and that process using less energy or water that it would require to build the item from scratch. Seeing as energy falls under that green initiative umbrella, you’re doing more than you think when you recycle. On top of this, using fewer resources such as energy will result in a healthier planet.”

Physical space

Alexandra Fennell is the Co-Founder of Attn:Grace, a brand offering modern solutions for age-old problems: skin-safe personal care, designed by women. She advises others to consider how much space is required for a landfill.

“The reality is that planet earth is not growing in any way. This means we have a finite amount of space to work with before things become too crowded. Right now, that may not seem like a problem when vast, empty areas like the Sahara Desert exist. But humanity’s expansion rate is continuing to grow as is the amount of waste we get rid of yearly. At some point, our planet will run out of physical space for trash. But, if we recycle as much as we can, this issue can be pushed way down the road.

Product availability

Big Heart Toys specializes in innovative toys, books, and games to help unlock the power of learning through play. Their Chief Operations Officer, Rio Wolff, believes recycling old electronics can aid manufacturers attempting to meet customer demands.

“Anyone who has attempted to get their hands on a PlayStation 5 through a traditional retailer has likely swung and missed any opportunities they pursued. The global chip shortage is largely responsible for the low supply of items like the PlayStation and more. But, if more people took the time to recycle their unused devices, the effects of this problem wouldn’t be as wide felt. Why? The current chip shortage is due to a low supply of materials. Since recycling produces these materials, it seems obvious to tap into this resource.”

Air quality

There are not many things shared by people globally, but oxygen is one of them. JOI is a business providing plant milk concentrates. Their CEO, Hector Gutierrez, proposes disposing of electronics environmentally because of this.

“All of the phones, computers and more that we don’t use anymore may seem like harmless items but in the wrong scenario, they can be deadly. What many of us don’t realize is that all these pieces of technology contain liquids or gasses which, when released, can be very dangerous to anyone who breathes them in. If all our pieces of technology collect in one area it stands to reason that area would be uninhabitable. With technology being thrown out every day, our air quality will suffer at some point because of this if people don’t change their approach.”

Waste quantity

Michael Ayjianl is the Co-Founder & Executive Producer at 7 Wonders Cinema, a brand offering full-service branded video strategy, production, and delivery. They caution others to be aware of the sheer number of personal electronics being thrown out.

“Twenty or so years ago, it was uncommon to know more than a handful of people who owned a cell phone. Now, even the baby in the family has their own iPad. Society revolves around these devices in so many ways that they’re a near necessity for everyone. Just like you and I replace our devices after a few years, everyone else does the same. What happens to the old ones? They generally are put in a landfill somewhere. With our population growing and more electronics being produced daily, it’s easy to see why the waste quantity of electronics is high and showing no signs of slowing down. If people can remember to recycle these electronics, our waste system will not become overwhelmed with old electronics.”

Data security

Bounce specializes in luggage storage near you. Their Founder and CEO, Cody Candee, considers the handling of personal information to be a wonderful benefit when recycling old technology.

“I don’t know that many people give their old phones a second thought once they’ve migrated all their personal data to their new device, but it would do them good to do so. This is because that old phone contains personal information that everyone would much rather prefer to be kept to themselves and not accessed by a stranger. When you turn your old phone over to a legitimate recycler, they clean out personal data in a manner that ensures safety for everyone involved. Don’t let an oversight on your part come back to bite you, recycle your stuff.”                        

Above is a plethora of information on why each one of us should be recycling our personal electronics. However, some might say that one person recycling does not create change. Actress Emily Deschanel spoke out against this, “It makes a big difference to recycle. It makes a big difference to use recycled products. It makes a big difference to reuse things, to not use the paper cup – and each time you do, that’s a victory.”