Primal Numbers – Ring Out the Old

Primal Numbers ? Ring Out the Old

?Tis the season for gifting and giving, and we’re sure to find all sorts of digital goodies under the tree. Yet when we toss our old toys aside, they often become a gift that keeps giving?but not in a good way. With 50 million tonnes of electronics waste generated in 2012 alone, It’s a growing problem. So how can you enjoy the new while doing some good with the old? Pour a glass of eggnog and read on.

From tablets and TVs to smart phones and PlayStations, people around the world love their gadgets. Part of what makes those gadgets work, though, is a chemical conglomeration of things like copper, lead, lithium, zinc, and other precious metals. That might not be so bad if we kept our devices for 10 or 15 years, but the average consumer now keeps their smart phone less than two years before buying a new one.

As this Guardian article notes, That’s creating a toxic pile of electronics waste around the world. In Europe, one environmental agency ?estimates between 250,000 tonnes and 1.3m tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year, mostly to West Africa and Asia.? In the US, consumers threw away just over 258 million ?computers, monitors, TVs, and mobile phones in 2010, of which only 66% was recycled.?

Wait a minute. Two thirds of that electronics waste was recycled? That doesn’t sound so bad. Well, yes it is, because many so-called recycling services are anything but. In fact, the same Guardian article reports that most of those discarded items ?were shipped to Hong Kong, Latin America and the Caribbean,? places where people often work for pitiful wages in dangerous conditions to dismantle our old phones and electric toothbrushes.

There’s a lot of money to be made with such schemes, and geography’s no barrier. In July 2013, one California company was fined more than $4 million (and had two executives sent to prison) for illegally dumping electronics waste in China. As The Denver Post reported, the company collected ?electronic waste from private households, businesses and government entities,? then dumped it overseas. All the while, the company had ?told costumers that collected waste would be disposed of safely and responsibly.?

If all that has you feeling like the Grinch, cheer up. There really are some useful (and reputable) ways to dispose of your electronics waste while enjoying those shiny new gifts under the tree, and many of those programs are creating new jobs right here at home.

In Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador has developed an electronics recycling program. Not only has it been designed within the province, it will be operated there too. And while many provinces have hazardous waste depots, your unwanted electronics can have an even bigger impact if you live in BC, Alberta, or Ontario. Habitat for Humanity has a long list of electronics waste you can drop off at 28 of their ReStores.

In the US, you can check out the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Not only do they have a great guide on how to safely recycle electronics, but they also offer a top 10 list of the warning signs that point to shady recyclers. Even better, there are at least two electronics waste recyclers that give back far more: they hire ex-convicts to work at local recycling plants. In Indiana there’s Recycle Force, while Isidore Electronics operates in California.

It’s worth checking out their YouTube clip just for this fascinating fact: there’s more gold in one ton of electronic waste than there is in 17 tons of gold ore. And the video is sure to put you in a feel-good, giving mood.

Of course, the best way to reduce the electronics waste problem is to stop ditching our old models as soon as the new ones come out. But That’s not a practical solution, especially since outdated smart phones are only one small part of the problem. Many universities are turning to e-books, and students need compatible devices to study with. Hospitals, law enforcement, governments, and corporations all rely on computers and tablets to keep us safe, transmit records, and countless other tasks. Using outdated equipment can often have far-reaching effects, especially when it comes to security.

So no, Virginia, electronics and the waste they create aren’t going away anytime soon. But this year, as you spend countless hours admiring the new iPhone or looking for just the right Android, spare a little time to think about what’s going to happen to your old one. It might not seem like much, but It’s a gift that can make a big difference.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.