Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

Tech Tragedies

Have you ever wondered what happens to your old cell phone when you upgrade to a new one, and the store says they can recycle it for you? I definitely have, especially since my two best friends and I have all upgraded to smart phones within the past six months from our old flip and slider phones.  I did some searching to better understand how the complex materials that make up electronics are separated and sorted.Pile of Waste - Electronic Waste Documentation (China: 2007)

  • Where should it go?

Most recycling programs for electronics are through the manufacturers that produce technology products, but I have also heard the whispers that these products aren’t really recycled, and according to the Basal Action Network Executive Director “there are many hundreds of similar ‘charlatan recyclers’ operating in every US city every day – all of them pretending to protect the environment while simply filling up sea-going containers of your old TVs, printers, phones and computers.” He said this in reference to two executives who were caught in Denver last summer. Portions of waste are often shipped out of the US and left in heaps in other countries, while others are broken down and resold to make new products. One way this can affects those nations is reflected in a National Geographic article about waste in Ghana from 2008.  A good way to determine who is being responsible with these electronics and actually recycling them is looking for a certified recycler. There is a third party accreditation board that works to certify all sorts of businesses, some of these are recycling plants that receive accreditation based on different criteria and what types of products they recycle.  If you want to see what is available in your area, you can search their database. Or to find manufacturers that are in your area, you can also use the EPA’s tool to narrow your search.  Specifically in Washington we have the E-Cycle Washington program that has helped to recycle over 250 million pounds of e-waste since it started six years ago.

  • What happens there?

Another confusing part of recycling electronics to me was the how. How do they separate everything that is so complex? I found a few videos (of course created by the recycling plants themselves) that explain what happen during the process. This video sums up the basic process pretty well, but I’ll post links to the more complex ones down below.

  • What can I do?

Look into your phone manufacturer’s take back program before turning it in to be recycled. Is it third party certified? With your next upgrade buy a more durable phone that won’t need to be replaced as soon, or turn in your phone to a reuse program instead of recycling it. If not, drop off your old cell phone to a local electronics recycler. This doesn’t apply to just phones either computers, televisions, and music players can also find a new home through donation or recycling. Being informed about the process and which retailers are responsible is also something that contributes to sustainable choices. I’ve become educated in the process of writing this post, and I hope you’ve become aware in reading it!

Other videos that go more in depth about the process of recycling e-waste can be found about specific plants or about the technological functions of the machinery.


Author: Lauren

SPU Student

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