(CNN Business) — In the past two months, Apple, Google and Samsung have introduced new smartphones and other devices with the intention of getting consumers to make the switch before the holiday season. But in the process, these and other companies may also be contributing to a growing problem: e-waste.
The limited lifespan of many tech gadgets, combined with few options for repairing older devices, has meant that the e-waste problem has grown over the years.
The data According to the United Nations, the world generated a staggering 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, and only 17.4% of it was recycled.
This Friday marks International E-Waste Day, an annual opportunity to reflect on the impacts of e-waste and do more to repair or recycle it. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, a Brussels-based nonprofit that has spearheaded the event since 2018, said this year’s focus is taking action on the little bits. of electronic waste that many people may unintentionally accumulate, including your old cell phone, headphones, remote controls and computer mice.
“People tend not to realize that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and together globally they represent massive volumes,” Pascal Leroy, director general of the WEE Forum, said in a statement.
There’s more to e-waste than just clearing out your junk drawer space.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that large amounts of waste Electronics are shipped to developing countries that lack the capacity to reject these imports or the infrastructure to safely recycle them.
The World Health Organization also warned that children are often employed to process mountains of electronic waste in developing countries for valuable elements such as copper, silver, palladium and others, by having smaller hands. The WHO said that more than 18 million children are exposed to a range of negative health impacts when engaged in this informal e-waste processing industry.
Here are some steps you can take with the phones, computers, and chargers you have sitting around the house to ease the burden of e-waste.
Find an e-waste removal service
If you live in an area that offers e-waste disposal services (either through specific collection dates or to a drop-off location), experts say it’s one of the easiest and most intuitive ways to dispose of old gadgets.
In recent years, several coalitions have emerged to give consumers the option to dispose of their devices responsibly. The e-Stewards group and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International offer online tools to find certified recycling centers.
The collective impact of e-waste recycling can be staggering. For every million cell phones that are recycled, the EPA states that 15,800 kilos of copper, 350 kilos of silver, 34 kilos of gold and 15 kilos of palladium can be recovered.
But not all US municipalities have the infrastructure for e-waste recycling.
Check with retailers
If you can’t find a recycling center near you, a growing list of big box retailers, like Staples and Best Buy, also have programs that allow customers to drop off their e-waste for recycling. And many manufacturers, like Apple, have programs that offer credits or free recycling in exchange for turning in used devices. Google, for example, offers the option to request a free shipping label to mail in some used electronics for recycling.
Do not rush to change teams
Environmental advocates say the most important step in tackling the growing e-waste problem is simply trying to use your electronics as much as possible. In a way, that’s easier than ever.
While tech makers have been criticized for their tactics to force users to upgrade, lawmakers have recently passed changes to force companies to make it easier for customers to repair consumer electronics and support the boom. of the Right-to-Repair movement.
At the beginning of this year, Manzana Y Samsung launched their self-service repair shops, offering parts to users looking to fix their smartphones themselves. Google also announced that this year it would offer original spare parts for the Pixel in an online store.