Electronics: It's Not About the Money


Our love of acquiring electronic gadgets is bordering on obsessive. In fact, the only thing that gets close is our habit of throwing them away.

As Larry Greenemeir reports for Scientific American, in 2005, Americans owned around 3 billion electronic devices (scratch that first line: we are obsessed). They also threw away or recycled about 300 million gadgets  – two third of which were still functional – creating 2.6 million tons of electronic waste. If that wasn’t bad enough, the bulk of the components in these devices were made from unsustainable, non-degradable and often exceptionally toxic materials. The older the unit, the more likely it is to be thrown – and the more probable that it’s full of nasty substances like arsenic, lead and mercury.

So what can we do to address this regrettable situation?

 – We can recycle wisely. Identify a local recycling bank that takes electronic refuse. Ask for an extra bin from your local recycling scheme. And keep a wise eye on your council’s recycling policy: when you find the big picture is an ugly one (say, here), bend the ear of your local councilor.

 – We can reuse. My home city of York (England) has a Freecycle service, where all sorts of items  – including electronics  – are given away gratuit to anyone who’s willing to pick them up. Find your local Freecycle group here. Charity shops are another option (although many have health & safety regulations preventing them from taking electronics). In short….if your item still works, and if don’ want to sell it on eBay, give it away for free – and consider it a donation to the environment!

 – We can buy second-hand. Want more bang for your buck, and an ethical stance to boot? Choose last year’s technology. (Even if it’s from a shop, it’ll be half the price).

 – We can change our attitude to electronics. In the throwaway world of modern technology, a device that doesn’t work, or costs more to repair than a new model, is automatically labelled "junk". The attitude is all about money. The Green thing to do is change our stance by regarding electronics like any other type of item in our homes – to be treasured, nurtured and repaired. With an electronic device, we can learn to look past what it costs, to see what it’s worth.

So, we’re in love with electronics. Let’s make this relationship a little healthier.

(Image: Greenpeace, via art es anna)

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.