Where Do Old Cell Phones Go To Die?
Have you wondered what happens to your cell phone when you exchange it for a new one by the retailer? When a phone breaks, it usually lies in a draw with other electronics and spare batteries until you move house.
We sometimes give it to our children to play pretend with and practice for their futures as fast-paced digital-obsessed Millennials.
Consumers have become more involved with the details of products they buy. They play an important role in making the world a healthier, safer and emission-free place for their children.
A Few Facts About Cell Phone Usage
Over 150 million old phones are thrown away each year in America alone. This results in almost 2.5 million tons of electronic waste per year.
The average consumer will replace a cell phone every two years or so. Two-thirds of the discarded devices are still functioning and can still be repaired or recycled.
Sadly, most of those devices are improperly discarded and end up in landfills. This has adverse consequences for people and the environment.
The problem is that most consumers are not properly educated about how to correctly dispose of their devices. Additionally, many cell phones are designed in a way that deliberately makes disassembly difficult so that recycling is a challenge.
Time For An Upgrade
You might return your old cell phone to the store you bought it from if you are a responsible user. The assumption is that the manufacturer will shoulder accountability for recycling the parts in a commendable way.
The truth is, that’s not always the case. If you ask the cell phone salespeople at your local store, there’s a good chance they will have no clue.
The Harmful Side Effects of E-Waste on People
Most discarded cell phones end up in giant mountains of e-waste that are poured into landfills. These landfills are usually located in the most impoverished countries around the world.
Children are given the job of sorting and burning the parts in developing and underdeveloped countries. They do this to extract little bits of valuable components.
They sell these parts to recycling merchants for a few dollars. The burning of the e-waste releases many harmful chemicals including toxic cadmium, lead, and mercury.
Even low levels of exposure to these elements can cause irreversible neurological damage. This can threaten the development of any children that come in contact with them.
The Impact on Our Environment
Mobile phones contain precious metals like gold, silver, and copper. These resources are finite, so it makes sense that they need to be recycled. The alternative is mining more of these metals which contributes to additional carbon emissions. Toxic substances often leak into the land and water.
Mining is not only bad for the environment, it is also expensive and requires much labor. More efforts need to be made regarding the recycling of these metals so that they avoid ending up in landfills. Future generations might have to resort to mining the landfills for these precious metals. If these resources run out they can no longer extract them from the Earth itself.
Laws and Regulations
President Obama signed an executive order in 2009. This order implemented recommendations for the recycling and disposal of federal electronic waste. Some commercial businesses have committed to responsible recycling practices since then.
The Basel Convention proposed an international treaty decreeing it illegal to traffic e-waste to poor countries. It has not been passed as a law although some companies agree to abide by its guidelines. The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011 has still not been enforced.
Stricter laws regarding the disposal of cell phones and other electronic assets should be imposed. This would be a big step toward joining efforts to contain toxic waste troubles on a global scale.
What Can We Do?
We need to take responsibility for where our high-tech trash ends up. We can do this by doing some research and becoming more informed. We can ask our retailers questions when we buy new phones and dispose of old ones.
Manufacturers will also pay more attention if we show interest in what happens at the end of our phones lifespan. Next time you buy a phone, you can make sure that the company offers an end-of-life take-back option.
This ensures that it will go through a safe recycling process. A company that is responsible enough to take back its waste is more likely to design out harmful materials.