Electronics, such as our smartphones, laptops, smartwatches, or TVs are so integrated into our daily life that most of us rarely think about the waste they produce both at their manufacturing and disposal levels.
The manufacturing of a single device takes as much energy as recharging and using a smartphone for 10 years. The mining of raw materials, transportation and processing of these materials require large amounts of energy, thus releasing a lot of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. In fact, the production of our electronic devices accounts for more than 2% of global emissions; just about the same as the aviation industry’s carbon footprint from fuel emissions. And with a rapid upgrade cycle, we can easily imagine this number increasing in the future.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made. And less than 20% of e-waste is formally recycled, with 80% either ending up in landfill or being informally recycled, meaning that it is handled by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. Additionally, e-waste can contaminate landfills’ soil and groundwater with the hazardous materials they contain, so they cannot be simply disposed of in the trash or recycling containers.
What can I do?
The first step in using electronics is buying them. Before buying a brand new device, you can consider buying a renewed device. At Brighten, we’ve been using Back Market, an online service where you can purchase renewed devices and trade in your old ones. The benefit is great: like-new devices, at secondhand prices, and a lesser impact on our environment.
As consumers, we play an important role in the way we maintain our electronics. One of the best ways to increase their lifespan is to take great care of them and be mindful of our usage. For example, when you are not actively using your device, you can power it down or put it in standby mode. You can also reduce the brightness of your screens, and print documents double-sided from your printers.
If your device is still functioning, you can consider donating it to someone who might want it or bringing it to your local thrift shop. This will expand your products lifespan and help reduce the sourcing of raw materials while keeping them out of the waste stream for a longer period of time.
Drop off at a recycling center:
Downtown Recycling Center (MarBorg ABOP)
132 Nopalitos St, Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm.
Goleta Recycling Center
20 David Love Place, Monday – Friday 9am to 4pm; Saturday 9:15am to 4pm
The Santa Barbara Zoo accepts cell phones, smart phones, MP3 players, tablets, hand-held game devices, adapters, and chargers.
500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, Monday – Sunday, 10am to 5pm.
Although we cannot individually control the amount of energy needed to manufacture electronics, we can become more mindful of the way we use and dispose of our devices. Contributing to a circular economy, where devices are refurbished and reused instead of landfilled, will help address the e-waste challenge while doing our planet a favor.