Why You Should Recycle Old Devices

It’s time to get eco-friendly

Key Takeaways

  • Electronic waste (e-waste) is a serious environmental issue, since old electronics end up in landfills, leaking chemicals. 
  • Less than 20% of e-waste is actually appropriately recycled.
  • Experts say to do your research on where to properly recycle your electronics, such as an ecoATM kiosk for smaller devices or an electronics store for larger ones.
Dump full of old computers and electronic gadgets.
Lya_Cattel / Getty Images

While it’s second-nature for many of us to recycle paper and plastics, most aren’t recycling old electronics, and experts say electronic waste (e-waste) is hazardous for the environment. 

According to a recent report published by Research and Markets, less than 20% of electronics are recycled safely, and most end up in landfills, leaking toxic chemicals that are detrimental to the environment and human health.

You probably have a drawer full of old iPhones or devices you haven’t touched in years, but it’s important to be aware of the impacts e-waste has on the environment, as well as how to properly dispose of old electronics. 

"Over the last decade, rapid advancements in technology have not only transformed the way we live and work, but have also resulted in a massive increase in electronic waste," wrote Dave Maquera, CEO of ecoATM, in an email to Lifewire. 

"As a collective, first and foremost, we must educate ourselves, so we are aware of the extreme impact that our behaviors and purchases have on the environment and our communal health."

Why Is E-Waste Bad? 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America, but only a fraction of it is collected. The world produces as much as 50 million metric tons of e-waste a year, which weighs more than all the commercial airliners ever built.

Since many people don’t know what to do with old or unwanted devices, they end up throwing them in the trash, where they eventually end up in landfills. The problem is, unlike regular trash, electronics have specific components in them that can become hazardous. 

"We must challenge each other to do better and be better, as every person on this planet contributes to a greater whole."

"When electronics are improperly disposed of in landfills, these toxic chemicals are released into the air, soil, and water, causing increased pollution, contamination, and acidification," Maquera said. 

Some of these toxins even include lead, nickel, and mercury, which obviously poses a threat to not only the environment, but to humans as well. 

"Ultimately, this toxification of the environment leads to increased respiratory health problems, contamination of crops, and unsafe water conditions for humans, animal[s], and plant communities alike," Maquera added. 

What Can You Do?

Enter ecoATM, which is trying to reduce the amount of e-waste with its kiosks in malls and stores, like Walmart and Kroger, located around the country. You can take your old smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, or other smaller electronic devices, drop them in an ecoATM kiosk, and receive a cash payment. The company does the hard part (recycling them) for you. 

"ecoATM’s mission is to build a sustainable pathway to a better tomorrow," Maquera said.

"It leverages technology to develop a safe and secure solution to help increase the recycling rate for electronics by offering convenience and an instant financial incentive for people to responsibly recycle used electronics."

Someone holding a motherboard connector with a shelf of old computer equipment behind them.
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Maquera said to be sure to do your research first about where and how to dispose of your electronic devices. For example, for larger electronic household devices, such as TVs or stereos, he recommends reaching out to a certified e-waste hauler or recycler for more information on how to dispose of them safely. 

Part of the responsibility also lies with tech companies, which could take steps to reduce the overall environmental impact of consumer electronics, he said. 

"Large tech companies play a crucial role in the future of e-waste, and developing devices that are designed to last longer than only one or two years could make a massive difference for the environment," Maquera said. 

And although tech companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have made climate pledges to hit "net-zero" greenhouse gas emissions within the next two decades, Maquera said that each individual must also make a conscious effort, especially as tech and personal devices become more interwoven into society. 

"We must challenge each other to do better and be better, as every person on this planet contributes to a greater whole," he said.

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