Computers don’t last forever. They start to glitch and their batteries die out. Their screens crack and keys pop off of their keyboards. But, when you’re thinking of upgrading to a new model, you can’t pick up your laptop and shove it into the nearest trash bin. Your old, out-dated computer is considered e-waste, which means that it should never go near a landfill.
What Is E-Waste?
The term e-waste stands for electronic waste — it covers everything from laptops to smartphones to vacuum cleaners. Technically, any electronic device that you can think of will be lumped into this category.
The reason why you can’t throw your electronics out with the garbage is that they contain toxic metals like lead, chromium and cadmium, which are harmful to the environment. The materials will leach into the nearby soil and groundwater, and they can also contaminate any of the surrounding garbage. So, things that are meant to go to the landfill, like plastic wrap or worn-out socks, will be exposed to these toxins and become just as hazardous.
E-waste can also affect the health and safety of anyone who comes into close contact with it. Side-effects include respiratory problems, decreased lung function, behavioural issues, increased miscarriages and reduced birth weights. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the public that children are particularly vulnerable to e-waste exposure because their bodies are still developing. The pollutants could have a stronger impact on them and cause permanent damage.
This is not a local problem — it’s a global one. Communities all over the world are struggling to cope with the levels of e-waste that they produce. In 2014, the United Nations reported that the world produced 41.8 million metric tonnes of e-waste. By 2016, that statistic ballooned to 44.7 million metric tonnes. With the growing dependence on technology and the pressures of consumer trends, it’s easy to say that those numbers are going to keep growing until there is a widespread initiative to change.
Minimize Your E-Waste
It’s difficult to grapple with these statistics. You’re just doing what everyone else does when they’re done with their electronics. In a tech-centric world, you’re going to toss out your smartphones, computers, tablets and other devices almost every year. You’re just one of the billions adding to the pile. It’s a drop in the bucket.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference. You can change how you approach your personal contribution to e-waste. You can quickly shrink your input to that massive pile, and hopefully inspire other people around you to shrink their own. If you don’t know where to start, follow these steps to minimize your e-waste levels as soon as possible:
Recycle Your E-Waste
This doesn’t mean that you should shove your laptop into the blue-bin. E-waste requires special recycling services in order to prevent hazardous substances from reaching the environment. You should go to a scrap metal recycling company like Canada Iron to safely and responsibly dispose of your e-waste. They are a part of the Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES) program, which aspires to help the government tackle the mounting e-waste issue.
And the best part about bringing your old computer to this recycling company? You can get paid for your contribution. They will pay you for electronic items (including computers) because they contain valuable metals like gold, silver and copper that can be recovered during the recycling process. What a great motivator to help the environment!
Consider Repairing over Replacing
Unless your device is completely useless, you can try to salvage it before tossing it away. Go to a support centre or a local repair café to get it fixed — at the very least, it can buy you a few more months of use before you need to get an upgrade. Maybe all it needed was a different battery or a replacement part to function like normal.
Take Good Care of Your Electronics
Another simple way to reduce your e-waste levels is to take good care of all of your electronics so that you can keep them for longer. Even extending a device’s lifespan by a single year is a great goal to set.
But how do you do that? It will be different for every item. For a smartphone, you could follow these tips to keep it in top condition for as long as possible:
- Get vinyl skins and protective cases to protect them from physical damage
- Perform software updates to improve security and performance
- Do not download any apps or files that could contain viruses
- Keep the device safe from extreme temperatures (both hot and cold)
- Delete unused apps and files that can take up unnecessary storage
The kinder that you are to these devices, the longer they’re going to last.
Be Mindful About Your Spending
Mass consumption is partially to blame for the e-waste problem. People want to follow the latest tech trends. They buy the newest devices to hit the market even though they have ones at home that perform almost the exact same functions. Then, they get tired of those electronics within a year — that timeline is way too short.
Try to be mindful of your spending when it comes to electronics. Ask yourself, do you need the latest wireless speakers, or do you want them? Are you getting the hottest tech because it’s necessary for your everyday life, or are you following a fad? Are you going to get tired of this brand-new item in a few months, or are you going to appreciate it for a long time? Shaking off the pressures of mass consumerism and constant advertising could help you scale down your environmental impact.
It’s easy to unplug your old computer and shove it into the garbage bin, but that’s not the right way to get rid of it. Now, you know that throwing your electronics with the rest of your trash is hazardous to the environment. When you bring your old device to a specialized recycling facility, you can guarantee that it’s disposed of properly and that you made the environment a little healthier, safer and greener.