I am an environmentalist, not the type ready to live like we did back in the stone age, more the if we do things right, and reduce our demands, we can leave the world in a better condition for our children than we received it from our parents. Being an environmentalist also is part of being a Buddhist, as we are taught to respect all life, and to not cause undue suffering. So I’m going to climb up on to my digital soap box, and speak my piece. I am not going to cover all the different ways we create e-waste, rather one that has the largest reach worldwide.
For the last while the environmentalist which lurks close to the surface in me, and quite often adds a greenish tinge to my life, has been appalled at the rapid growth in e-waste (electronic waste). We now have over 6,000,000,000 cell phones in use, for a world population of of just over 7 billion. This year the estimated sales of new handsets will be about over 1.6 billion sold worldwide. The smartphone sector which makes up the majority of sales grew at 42.5% year from 2011 – 2012. This during a time of economic uncertainty, governments needing bailouts, and hundreds of millions of people not employed. Sadly this growth doesn’t mean everyone will soon have a cell phone, rather the bulk of this growth is in established markets, where everyone is racing to have the newest handset.
So what happens to all those old phones? Well for many they end up in a drawer, sitting there, and many have company as there are many people who have commented on forums, that they have several old cell phones sitting in a drawer. This is something that can not be allowed to continue, as these cellphones contain precious metals that are becoming scarcer in the world. Even common metals such as copper have reached prices that people are stealing power lines, to sell the copper to scrap dealers. Metals such as platinum, indium, hafnium, tantalum are in critical shortages and some may not be available by 2017. NO science and technology will not be able to replace these, as these are chemical elements, which are the basic building blocks in complex compounds, unlike oil for example which in plastics can be replaced by plant based molecules. Today a pound of bright copper will fetch over $3.00 CDN at the scrap yard. The price on the world market has neared $8000 CDN/ton on the world market for copper. Now for your smart phone which needs tantalum, bad news it’s already going for about $360,000 CDN/ton.
We need to adopt a 3 pronged policy in our lives, what I am calling the Re-Geek lifestyle. The most recent example wasn’t a phone, rather the IPad3 to IPad4 in less than 1 year. That the change was made by Apple to play catch up, after missing the signs of how much it would affect the market, isn’t the issue. Rather it’s the thousands who grumbled, and switched to the new version less than a year after buying the previous new model. I know some will say but it allows faster downloads, however the cell phone companies admit LTE is a conversion in progress, and will be a few years before it’s fully supported.
1. Reduce the purchase of the latest and newest gadget, unless it has features that we must have, and will make use of. A new version of the old saying, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix”, it could be “If it works don’t replace it.”
2. Reuse working electronics, pass along the working electronics to those who have more obsolete models. In many cases this means more features for the new user, and probably more efficient batteries and less power consumption than their old model. This could be family, first, friends or co-workers next, charities that supply goods to the poor, some countries have charities that provide cell phones to the very poor for emergency communications, or second hand stores.
3. Recycle non working or obsolete electronics. As there is a problem with the e-waste trade and the improper recycling causing environmental damage, please seek out options that meet the Basel Convention on hazardous wastes. For more information see link below.
4. To push our Municipal and other Government leaders to adopt policies for waste such adopted by the City of Edmonton, AB, Canada. They already have a 60% diversion from the land fill and are implementing steps to soon be at 90% diversion. Yes there is a cost, compared to other Canadian cities Edmontonians are paying double per month in waste fees. However unlike cities such as Vancouver or Calgary, they are recovering enough bio-gas to power 40,000 homes, using methane a known greenhouse contributor. Concrete rubble is recycled, waste is turned into fertilizer and many more innovations on the way. Rather than join the growing trend of researching how to clean up landfills at a cost of hundreds of dollars per ton, they are choosing to make the land fill the last resort for waste. I will soon have a post comparing Edmonton and Vancouver and how they are currently handling waste, including garbage, sewage, etc. I will only include programs underway or funded, talk with out funds, is just a form of political pollution that plagues the world.
So will you join me and become a Re-Geek? If you agree please pass this message along, I know many of you are more savvy in these ways than I am, so how you choose to pass the message along, I will leave up to you. Thank you.
For more information here are some links: