Millions of tons of electronic waste is generated every year in North America and the amount increases with every new gadget, computer and smartphone that hits the market. In our quest to improve our lives through technology we are creating electronic waste at an unprecedented rate. In response, we have seen more attention focused on methods to reduce, reuse and recycle electronic waste.
In the pursuit for faster computers, more features on our smart phones and better picture quality, we are constantly replacing our electronics with newer and better performing models. But what if there was a way to get that improved performance, more features and better picture without increasing the amount of stuff we buy? Well, there already is a movement afoot to reduce the amount of computer hardware that needs to be purchased in order to stay on top of the tech race. The term is “cloud computing” and although it may sound like a weather forecasting computer it is actually a concept of sharing resources such as computer memory, processing power, and software over a network. For example you may need a fast computer to run software that you don’t currently own and perhaps will only need for a set amount of time. With cloud computing you would contract with a company that has the type of computer/software/memory you need and pay them a fee to access it on the Internet.
Why you may ask is this reducing the amount of electronic waste produced? Well instead of you having to purchase another computer and more memory you can use what you need, when you need it from the company providing the service. The company will have one very large computer that runs the software you and thousands of others are using. Essentially, their one computer replaces the thousands that would have needed to be purchased to complete the same task. Their one computer can be used more effectively because while you are sleeping someone in Europe can be using your portion of the big computer which likely wouldn’t be happening if it was sitting on your desk in low power sleep mode. An additional benefit is that the company providing the service is likely to be continuously upgrading and improving the software to retain and attract customers. This means that you aren’t going to get stuck with a piece of out-of-date software in a few years. And, if you’re a business you can add users by simply buying more access instead of having to buy more software and hardware to accommodate growth. Cloud computing is both lean and green.
We know it’s easy to recycle cans and bottles but who wants your old computer that is far from high tech? The truth is that lots of people might want it including schools, low-income earners, and even those pesky computer geeks. While it may not suit your needs anymore there is such a wide spectrum of computer uses out there that your old clunker may be just the thing that Junior could use to practice his typing or learn basic programming. Sometimes the latest and greatest isn’t the best tool for the job especially if you are looking to do a little tinkering under the hood, which is what many computer hobby hackers do. They are looking for something that they can strip down, try some new tricks on or simply strip the good parts. Whatever the use, if you can find Junior or a hobbyist, your computer will extend its useful life before it meets a shredder in the next phase, which is recycling. If you’re having trouble finding a home for your electronic waste or have large volumes consider a waste consultant who can use their knowledge and experience to find a solution.
OK, you’ve tried to donate your outdated electronic waste but it seems nobody wants your old clunker. Now it’s time to find a recycling facility that will take your old electronic device and safely recycle the materials contained within. But a word of caution on recycling of electronic waste because all may not be well. If you find someone that is willing to recycle your electronic, ask some questions like “Where does my computer go to be recycled?” or “Can you provide proof of recycling at an approved facility?” If the answer to the first question is another country such as China or India you may want to reconsider. Not that all recyclers in China and India are irresponsible but there is considerable evidence that much of the electronic waste sent to these countries is processed in ways that is extremely harmful to the both the environment and the workers that recycle the waste. You may think your old iPhone is being carefully disassembled for valuable materials when in fact it is being processed in an acid bath over an open fire, which is then dumped into a river. This brings me to my second rule of thumb, which is asking for proof of recycling at an approved facility. Ask the recycler where they send their materials. If they can’t or won’t tell you, it is a red flag. If they will tell you, do a quick Google search on the facility they provide and see what you find. Ideally you want to have your waste recycled locally by a government certified facility that is operating a safe and ethical recycling system. Most recyclers dealing with a certified electronic waste recycler will provide a record of recycling to certify that your electronic waste was recycled at an approved facility.
The solution to the ever-increasing electronic waste issue is to use computing resources more efficiently (Cloud Computing), reuse and extend the life of electronic waste (Schools and Hobbyists), and use a responsible recycler (Local and Accountable).