When I speak to people about recycling their cell phones and electronics, the most common objection I hear is that it’s a scam and everything gets landfilled anyway. The second most common concern, and the one that is most valid, is that these personal electronics are being sent overseas to be disassembled and have their component parts and materials reclaimed by what amounts to slave labor.
Many of the workers in these overseas recycling facilities are children. The toxins that they are exposed to during the recycling process are enough to make any of us cringe. Cyanide, nitric acid, lead, mercury and cadmium are just a few of the substances the workers come into contact with on a daily basis.
Now there is evidence that these toxins are extending beyond the humans that work with them to the water and food supplies in the communities that have electronics recycling plants. It’s hard to claim you’re doing the right thing when you recycle your old smart phone if you’re causing irreparable harm to other humans and the environment at large in the process.
Thankfully one smart phone manufacturer has recognized the harm that’s being done and is now manufacturing their phones with eco friendly materials. Unfortunately this is not an American supplier, but there is hope that this will be the beginning of a new trend in green cell phone manufacturing. With the average American replacing their phone every twelve to eighteen months this would be good news indeed.
In the U.S. we still face many obstacles to requiring companies to ‘green’ their manufacturing processes. There is a lack of policy leadership on the topic of recycling and the environment in general. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws would force manufacturers to be responsible for the end-life of their products, but such laws have received only limited support at the federal level. Many legislators are concerned that such laws are too costly for businesses and will hurt the economy. However, where EPR has had success in making it through the legislative process it has primarily been in the area of electronics and batteries, and many manufacturers and suppliers already have take-back programs in place. So there may be hope the EPR could become the law for cell phones as well. Unfortunately, until the products are made with more eco-friendly products to begin with, this won’t prevent those items from being sent overseas to be recycled at the peril of the people who live and work there.
Our throwaway electronics harm people overseas, but new trends in responsible design are not just smart—they’re kind. by Chris Sweeney posted Oct 11, 2013 When Ted Smith looks at a smartphone, he doesn’t see a multipurpose gadget. He sees faces…