As cell phone usage continues to grow and phone companies regularly release newer, hipper smartphones, electronic waste climbs accordingly. One of the developed world's biggest exports is increasingly e-waste, and the problem is not slowing down anytime soon—a study from the UN predicts a 500 percent rise in e-waste in developing countries by 2020. So what can be done now to slow that astounding rise?
Not surprisingly is the runner-up: China produces around 2.3 million metric tons of waste domestically, even while its informal recycling industry is already saturated by much of the developed world’s e-waste. By informal recycling industry, we mean dozens of ramshackle villages where kids make a living tearing gold out of circuit boards, if they’re not already deathly ill from the air and water.
Growing gadget use in China points to a new source of the problem: the developing countries themselves are increasingly using computers and talking on mobile phones, and presumably throwing away in not the safest ways either. That’s the lesson of yet another UN study that predicts mobile phone subscribers worldwide will number 5 billion by the end of the year.
But therein also lies a solution: lots of people in poor countries want phones, and they’d be perfectly happy with the perfectly good phone that we no longer want because it doesn’t play MP3s. That’s why it’s called e-waste—because it’s waste, not garbage, and its value doesn’t just lie in the precious metals that get extracted at poisonous cost. It’s more valuable as a tool for doing basic banking, being a better farmer and getting your medicine.
The best option is to turn your phone over to an organization like Lifeline for Africa and its partner Recellular which turns your used phones into cash for charity. These used cell phones stashed away in your closets or drawers have real value. To some people, they offer an opportunity to communicate in a way that they never have. The materials that comprise our old cell phones can also be recycled and reused to make many other products, helping to preserve the world around us. Imagine the difference each of us can make if we just do our part!