E-waste piles up, companies counter

Eli Sorensen, Senior Design Editor

Next time you buy another cell phone, make sure you know what to do with your old one.
Electronic waste, or “e-waste,” has become a prevalent side-effect of modern computing and the rise of consumer electronics. As e-waste continues to build up, its consequences continue to become more occurrent.
Seeing as the disposal of electronic equipment only truly took hold of our ecosystem within the last fifty years, e-waste disposal solutions have only recently been researched and implemented. These answers to the e-waste problem are only rudimentary, and more ubiquitous proposals will have to arise before we can confidently say that e-waste is not polluting the environment. One thing is certain, though– the damage is already being done, and the sooner it can be slowed, or even prevented outright, the better.
E-waste is unique in that certain, common components of most electronics can render them hazardous if improperly disposed. Prime among these constituents are batteries. Batteries come in many varieties, each containing different chemicals to react and create the power needed to fuel our devices. These chemicals remain within batteries, even after their usefulness has worn out. When batteries are replaced, dead batteries that are thrown out can end up in landfills, and the chemicals inside of them can leak out, causing harm to the environment. As a result, simply throwing batteries away, along with the rest of your trash, can be incredibly irresponsible. Like batteries, many other electronic components and devices rely upon chemical reactions to function. As soon as these devices do not function as intended, they too are oftentimes thrown away, thus further contaminating the atmosphere.
Speaking of which, the life expectancy of most devices is a huge cause of e-waste today. New phones, tablets and personal computers are released every year, with faster, more capable hardware and increased functionality. Just as the hardware becomes more capable, the software we use becomes more demanding to utilize the increased resources in newly unveiled tech. The speed at which new technologies are revealed and produced is happening at a much faster rate than the pace that research is being done to conserve the environment and prevent further e-waste damage. Instead of devoting so much time to advancing technology, perhaps we should place more effort in the cause of finding out a viable use for the technology that we already have.
Certain companies are doing just that. Apple compensates users who sell their old devices when upgrading to newer ones with credit towards their next purchase. The existing tech is then repurposed, either to be sold at a lower price or to be recycled for parts that can be used in future tech production. That said, this assumes users will upgrade through Apple and will trade in their old tech. Many users simply purchase new devices, and their old ones eventually end up in the trash. While other companies like Google, Amazon, AT&T and Verizon offer similar incentives, until these programs can become more popular, they only make minor progress in solving the e-waste crisis.