Cell phones have become ubiquitous in the modern world. They seem to be everywhere and everyone seems to have one. While hailed as a technological wonder, these cell phones are creating a massive e-waste problem.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) found in one of its studies that over 50% of American households either do not use their landlines or do not have them at all.
Clearly, people are going wireless. The problem: the CDC estimated the average replacement or upgrade interval is a mere 18 months. This leads to a vast number of cell phones that end up in incinerators or landfills.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 10% of all mobile phones are recycled, while only 25% of all e-waste is collected for recycling. Experts agree that these devices should be recycled for two reasons.
They contain reusable precious metals, and recycling them would cut down on resource extraction considerably, and the cell phones contain toxic substances which affect both humans and wildlife. These toxins include mercury, cadmium, plastics, lead, dioxins, and fire retardants.
Companies like AT&T have created campaigns to encourage consumers to recycle electronics, but in actuality, must of e-waste recycling involves sending between 50% and 80% of collected electronics to developing countries. This also means the toxic effects are getting exported as well.
Experts wonder if tax breaks and incentives or stricter regulation of sellers and makers of mobile devices might encourage responsible disposal. One study determined that 98% of consumers who had not recycled a mobile device would have done so had they known there was a reward involved.
Regardless of the shape it takes, green advocates agree that finding appropriate end-of-life solutions for these products is an important part of the sustainability puzzle.