Analyzing trash. Sounds pretty lame, right? It's actually a common tactic used by archaeologists and anthropologists to learn about past civilizations. What did they eat? What did they create? What tools did they have? You can learn a lot about a culture by what they throw away. So if human civilization disappeared today and left behind our mountains of Digimons, iPhones, Gameboys, MP3 Players, iPhones, Pagers, etc., what would an alien race think of us?
The Rise of Consumer Electronics and Planned Obsolescence
Consumer electronics are a relatively young phenomenon by Earth standards. It began sometime around the beginning of the 20th century with the broadcast receiver but didn't pick up steam until the 1950s, when TV sets began popping up in homes worldwide. By the 1980s, affordable video game consoles, VCRs, and personal computers were the norms for most middle-class families. But in the past 40 years, it has exploded into a booming market filled with more devices than you could ever hope to own and this explosion has repercussions.
As technology moved away from the realm of government and military and towards the consumer and household, the business model has changed drastically. Technology isn't designed to last anymore; it's as seasonal as Hallmark. Every company has their product lines, and you can expect a new model release every year. Apple smartly began adding an S to the end of each iPhone model to avoid hitting double digits within the first decade (S stands for suckers because that's what we are now).
The idea that this phenomenon of endless upgradability could have potentially negative consequences isn't new. In 1965 Gordon Moore made the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. He saw no reason this trend wouldn't continue, and it is known as Moore's Law. You can apply this in broad strokes to consumer electronics on the whole. Every day, all over the world, people are designing software that will trash your high-end computer in 5 years. In some sense, what you've just purchased is already behind the times.
Upgrade after upgrade, we discard each "old" model for the next. New technological advances render entire generations of electronics obsolete. Slight inconveniences in an older model are more than enough to merit the sword. Fads come and go. Electronics are as transient as seasons, and yet they're physical objects. They have to go somewhere. As we poke away at our new devices, what happens to the world outside our screens?
The Costs of E-Waste
There is a real, global cost to this behavior that's even more significant than our reputation among the intergalactic civilizations that may predate us. A whopping 41.5 million tons of e-waste was created in 2011, and that number will rise above 100 million in 2017. Between 70 - 80% of that makes its way straight into landfills. Discarded electronics make up about 70% of all toxic waste, which can threaten our soil and water supplies. This isn't to even mention the number of resources we spend creating these devices in the first place.
E-waste is a complex problem. There are a plethora of reasons behind this, and each could merit their own article. Let's list out a handful of the major factors:
- The inconvenience and high cost of repairs have incentivized purchasing new devices.
- Companies use software upgrades to pressure users into buying new hardware.
- The relative difficulty and inconvenience when recycling electronics compared to other forms of waste.
- Manufacturers prioritize aesthetic design over recyclability, burdening e-waste recycling companies.
- Lack of information about how to properly recycle electronic devices.
I'll focus on the final point. While we're somewhat powerless over many of these factors, we can put our individual power to good use if we know how to properly recycle electronics.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We can easily reduce our e-waste by purchasing high-quality electronics and practicing good maintenance. Which is why our mission here at tekbotic is to deliver quality products to our supporters. In reality, the only true way to eliminate e-waste is by not creating it in the first place. We can’t force people to care but lasting quality is in our hands.
Reuse still functioning electronics by donating, trading or selling them. Just because you're ready for the next model, doesn't mean there isn't someone else out there who would be dying to get a hold of your device (provided you followed the suggestions above). Companies like Best Buy and Amazon offer trade-in programs. Another option is donating to a charity. Double win. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a phone trade in program. If you feel like supporting the US Military, you can donate your phone to Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to soldiers abroad. There are countless donation and trade-in programs available. It just takes a short online search to find them.
Recycling electronics, while not as convenient as throwing them on your front lawn, is relatively simple and again, Google is your friend. Electronics recycling companies and laws differ from state to state, so make sure to read up on your area's options. One helpful resource is a tool offered by Greener Gadgets that lets you look up options in your zip code. Apple also has its own recycling program you can check out here.
Look, it should be clear to you at this point in your life no one is going to come down and save us from ourselves. If it's not, think of the last time that happened. Don't worry; I'll wait. We all gotta pitch in to prevent this place from turning into a ball of trash floating in space. Great news though, we save money and resources in the long run if we just recycle a few things along the way. Let's make this humanity thing last as long as possible.
Ryan Alexander Kavanaugh | firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Brand Development
Ryan enjoys video games, long naps on the beach, and humanity's most difficult existential questions. His long list of influences includes Christopher Hitchens, Ocarina of Time, that one time he stubbed his toe, and his first ex-girlfriend. Ryan also works as development producer in the television industry and still retains most of his soul at this time.