How to Fix Our Big Electronic Waste Problem

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We're glued to our smartphones almost every hour of the day, it seems. For such a ubiquitous and necessary device, we sure don't feel very loyal to it — in fact, our phones get tossed and replaced in just under two years, on average. This is how we treat a lot of our electronics, especially as they get cheaper to buy. Unfortunately, that's creating several million metric tons of problems for us in the future.


The United Nations has just released its latest report on e-waste, or "discarded products with a battery or electrical plug." In the past 16 years, we've doubled how many electronics we toss — nearly 54 million metric tons worldwide — and just 17.4 percent finds a new lease on life through recycling programs. In addition to wasting tremendous amounts of raw materials that we need to build electronics, like gold or platinum, this creates damaging pollution and incentivizes dangerous conditions for workers from mines to manufacturing sites.

All this means that it's more important than ever to find out how and where you can recycle or properly dispose of your consumer electronics. Sometimes that happens through private means, such as dropping off your old TV or printer at a store like Best Buy or the Apple store. Other times, cities may organize designated e-waste drop-off days. If you're already trying to stay conscientious about your old electronics, consider asking your elected representatives about your state's right to repair laws, to extend the life of your phone and other devices. Ultimately, the best way to increase recycling isn't to buy our way out but to use what we already have.