Our E-Waste Problem Is Ridiculous, and Gadget Makers Aren’t Helping

Our E-Waste Problem Is Ridiculous, and Gadget Makers Aren’t Helping

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CHANCES ARE HIGH that you’ll be getting or giving new electronics this holiday season: an iPhone upgrade for mom perhaps, or maybe a new Windows 8 ultrabook. Device upgrades have become increasingly frequent for many of us. Unfortunately, too many people give virtually no thought to what becomes of all these discarded gadgets.

And neither are most device manufacturers.

Some 41.5 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2011, and that number is expected to rise to 93.5 million by 2016, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets. Right now, 70 to 80 percent of all that old gadgetry goes straight to landfills.

h sure, many companies have green initiatives. Apple in particular has made notable, documented efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, powering a majority of its retail stores and data centers with renewable energy, developing more efficient packaging design, and designing products that use less power than their predecessors. But if your products are going to be tossed out in a year, none of that is particularly brag-worthy. That’s a tremendous amount of wasted resources.

In the past, computers were designed to be relatively easy to disassemble, like HP’s towers and older versions of the Mac Mini. You could swap out dead parts and batteries, add more memory if it got sluggish, even replace a motherboard. But in the mid-2000s, things started to change. Apple introduced the ultra-thin, ultra-light MacBook Air and the industry enthusiastically followed with heaping helpings of devices that, while slim, were very difficult to repair due to the construction compromises required to achieve that svelte profile. Smartphones and tablets followed with an even faster purchasing and chucking cycle.

As mobile gadgets exploded we became a culture that abandoned its gear regularly, on a massive scale. It’s an epic environmental and economic problem not simply because people aren’t properly recycling their old devices, but because many devices are all but impossible to recycle efficiently.

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