Laptops And Smartphones In The Recycling Industry
How a newly rebranded company is helping the environment by repurposing used electronic devices like smartphones and laptops.
FREMONT, CA: To know the origin of smartphones is not an easy task. The device was likely constructed in a Chinese factory, but the elements that went into it came from all around the world. Copper wire comes from Indonesia, cobalt in the rechargeable battery comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, iron in the speakers and microphone comes from the Amazon. The combined effort necessary to collect these elements — as well as the many others needed to turn them into a smartphone — has a significant impact on people and the environment.
First and foremost, there is the carbon footprint: Four-fifths of the carbon emissions produced by a new iPhone originate from mining and manufacture rather than overseas shipping. Then there's the widespread devastation of ecosystems: Gold mining, which is used in electrical equipment as connections and wires, is a major source of deforestation in the Amazon, for example, and tin mining off the coast of Indonesia is damaging coral reefs. Human rights violations related to smartphone material mining are as troubling. To provide just one example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, much of the cobalt mining is done by women and children in dangerous and potentially deadly environments. Neither the mining businesses nor the electronics companies are held responsible for the harsh techniques they employ.
Although electronic devices reach consumers, their environmental and human impacts do not stop there. Every few years, the majority of people replace their cellphones and laptops. The debris generated by the disposal of these and other electronic equipment, known as e-waste, is frightening. 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were created in 2019, with that number predicted to rise to over 75 million by 2030. Businesses and individuals often recycle their old electronics. However, in the past, this has resulted in a large number of gadgets being transported to underdeveloped countries, where they are frequently stripped of essential metals in unsafe and unregulated conditions.
When a large corporation has to get rid of many old computers, it usually hires an Information Technology Asset Disposition (ITAD) firm, which may take advantage of economies of scale by providing on-site pickup and decommissioning. On the other hand, individual consumers have long been without a convenient, secure, and transparent method of disposing of their old cellphones, computers, and tablets. As a result, many of these devices wind up in landfills or drawers, where they collect dust.