Another option is recommitting to repairing smartphones and computers. Done properly, electronics repair might help reduce unemployment. Companies and NGOs could set up simple training centers where people could learn the skills, and manufacturers could provide better access to repair options and facilities. Government involvement in such programs would be extremely important, as the creation of such centers would need to contribute to broader socio-economic goals. Donors to NGOs might have a role to play in advocating for such change.
Resale is another option. Companies like Ebay and Olx offer the means, but obsolescence still hampers second-hand use. If older devices are not supported by manufacturers and developers, these gadgets end up back in landfills. Emerging economies such as Pakistan and Nigeria, where purchasing power is low, offer promising markets for the reuse of such devices. Pakistan has a thriving second- and third-hand market for older phones already; even older Nokia phones are common, complete with the monochrome snake game.
The conditions at e-waste processing facilities are dire. Devices have to be laboriously manually sorted and then disassembled. Furthermore, used electronic devices contain hazardous materials like mercury, lead, silver, and flame-retardants. They also contain small amounts of valuable raw materials, such as gold, copper, titanium, and platinum; one ton of electronic waste might yield 200 grams of gold. This sometimes makes the business of e-waste recycling unviable. Manufacturers have a role to play here, too: for example, by assisting in the creation of e-waste recycling centers in developing countries rather than using them as dumping sites.
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According to a United Nations Environment Program report titled “Waste Crimes,” up to 50 million tons of electronic waste—mainly computers and smartphones—are expected to be dumped in 2017. That’s up 20 percent from 2015, when about 41 million tons of electronic waste was discarded, mostly into third world countries serving as global landfills.
Everyone has a role to play in reducing electronic waste. Consumers can resist, or at least delay, acquiring new devices until they really need them. They can repair devices when possible rather than abandoning them. And after a new purchase, they can resell or recycle their old devices. But consumer intervention only goes so far. Governments need to regulate electronic waste, and the companies that make the consumer electronics they sell over and over again to the same people, at great profit.
This article appears courtesy of Object Lessons.