We’re buying more new and innovative gadgets every single day to make our lives easier and keep ourselves entertained, but we’re still not paying much attention to those that we already own as they gradually become obsolete. Most of us might be looking at it this way: I bought something a few years ago, and now I have something better. We had a good run, and I got my value out of it. What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, there is still a cost unaccounted for. Cluttering up our environment with unused technology and electronics is just as harmful as the rest of the unnecessary trash we produce every day, and much like the rest of it, we often see filling giant holes in the ground with our unwanted waste materials as the solution. Again, perhaps we rationalise this in our heads on a daily basis, using logic such as: I like recycling. I can see the benefits, so I recycle everything I can, including my old computers, TVs, phones and everything else.
That’s great, but again we have a problem. Recycling electronics is a market, and businesses are certainly in it, but over the past few years it has become increasingly obvious that the profit margins in this sector barely exist. Companies that take away people’s unwanted electronics are finding it almost impossible to find a good use for the materials, and the costs of transporting and storing this huge volume of waste are only going up. It’s expensive to process the different materials in our electronics separately, such as the glass in old TVs, and markets like the one for recycled plastic have become so saturated there’s barely any money in them.
Charging people to recycle their electronics seems fair, given the costs involved and the environmental benefits, but in practice it simply puts people off doing it at all. This has led to a reduction in the number of companies cleaning up after us, and an increase in the number of obsolete gadgets we’re either hoarding or throwing in with the rest of our waste.
In order to tackle the problem, governments around the world are being encouraged to invest more money into supporting the private sector companies managing this electronic recycling. Subsidising the costs of processing and reusing these materials can save money overall and help the environment, but at the moment things seem slow to change because it’s still something that can be temporarily ignored. We hope to see some changes to the law in the near future, making it easier for recyclers to get more government support behind their endeavours.