How often do you purchase a new electronic device, such as a smartphone or a TV? Smartphone sales alone have reached an estimated 1.535 billion units worldwide, annually. This means that 1.535 billion phones need to be disposed of — and not all of them will be disposed of properly.
Despite receiving limited public attention, the world is in the midst of a massive crisis of “e-waste.” The main problem is that people haphazardly throw their old electronics away, causing significant environmental damage. Interestingly, the e-waste problem has opened the door to new market opportunities – and companies are stepping in to address the problem.
The e-Waste Problem
By some estimates, we collectively generate about 50 million tons of e-waste every year. This waste comes in many forms, with 31 percent generated by small electronics such as microwaves, shavers, and cameras. Approximately 28 percent is generated by large electronics such as washing machines and refrigerators. Smart devices, smartphones, computers, televisions, lamps, and other devices make up the rest.
The exact composition of any electronic device depends on its nature and level of sophistication. However, most modern high-tech devices require a variety of different elements to function properly. Many of these elements are toxic.
When e-waste is buried in landfills, these toxic chemicals can leach into the soil and contaminate local water supplies. This jeopardizes the health of any nearby communities and can lead to environmental catastrophes. In rarer, more severe cases, e-waste is burned. Burning releases these toxic chemicals into the air which then gets breathed in by the local population.
The magnitude of our e-waste problem is exacerbated by the fact that technology consumption levels are enormous and constantly growing. We’re purchasing electronic devices at a fast rate, especially in developing countries, and our waste disposal approach hasn’t yet evolved to handle that increased load.
Thankfully, there’s an emerging solution.
Market Opportunities: A Win-Win Solution?
Entrepreneurial innovators have identified this situation not just as a problem, but as an opportunity. There’s a way to mitigate the e-waste problem, incentivize electronics owners to make better decisions, and make money at the same time.
This is the model that companies such as Gizmogo are using. Instead of throwing your old phone, tablet, game console, or another device away, you can sell them. It doesn’t matter what condition your device is in; it could be new, completely broken, or any state in between. You’ll get an offer for the device based on its internal components and current condition. If you accept the offer, you can trade in the device for cash.
This is important as much of our e-waste problem is tied directly to consumer apathy.
Throwing a phone in the trash and taking it to a proper recycling facility take roughly the same amount of effort and provide roughly the same reward. In many cases, people decide that it’s easier to throw the phone away.
Now, with cash on the line, it literally pays to recycle your phone properly. If even a fraction of consumers adopted this practice, their participation could dramatically reduce the tonnage of e-waste generated every year.
Tech Companies and Sustainability
Major tech companies are also stepping in to address our growing e-waste problem.
For example, Apple now has trade-in and recycling programs operating in dozens of countries. Instead of throwing your old device away, you can trade it in for credit toward your next purchase or an Apple gift card — and Apple will take care of recycling it for free.
Microsoft, too, has begun to partner with recycling organizations and collection programs around the world to facilitate end-of-life management for electronic devices, batteries, and even packaging materials.
3 Innovative, Entrepreneurial Steps You Can Take
If you’re an entrepreneur, there are three steps you can take to mitigate the e-waste problem — and you don’t have to start an electronics recycling business to make a positive impact. Nor do you have to reinvent the exhaustive efforts that brands such as Apple and Microsoft have supported to raise awareness and facilitate the accessibility of recycling programs.
Instead, anyone with an innovative spirit can commit to three basic priorities:
There’s a good chance you buy more devices than you need. You might also be likely to upgrade more often than necessary. Start by addressing the problem at its root. Limit how often you make new technology purchases and consider buying used devices whenever you are able.
Don’t get rid of your current device simply because it’s no longer working perfectly. Instead, try to repair the device, replacing broken screen glass and other parts as necessary to keep it functional longer.
When your devices are truly at the end of their lifespan, recycle them — don’t simply throw them away. If you’re in a position of leadership, model this behavior for colleagues and employees. Consider adding an electronics recycling container to your office space.