Electronics recycling is an opportunity lost, reducing a complex, useful device containing dozens of unique elements into a handful of raw materials worth no more than a few dollars. Refurbishing, on the other hand, transforms a used laptop or tablet into a gateway to better grades, or a new job, or life saving medical information. Or three seasons of Star Trek in one weekend.
Manufacturing electronics is an environmentally costly process to begin with. Exotic minerals are mined and refined, often from open pit mines; creating one tiny IC chip consumes over 150 liters of water and requires hundreds of unique chemicals. When we recycle aluminum Coke cans, we make more cans. When we recycle electronics, much of the original recipe is lost in the process. Plus roughly 80% of the energy consumed by a device in its lifetime is spent during its manufacture. So when we use our devices longer--deferring the manufacture of something new--we substantially reduce the environmental impact of our electronics habit.
We also reduce its impact on our wallets. Finding another, higher use for our used electronics always trumps the financial returns from recycling. A good refurbisher can make an old phone or PC appealing to one of the many millions who can’t afford to purchase new. Some gadgets can be repurposed for entirely new applications. Either way, think trade-in value and lower cost of ownership.
Keeping your old computer in the closet or sending it to the landfill is definitely even worse than recycling. Instead, spruce it up, repair it, and use it longer. Or see that it finds another life with someone else. In our digital age, it’s one of the best ways to tread more lightly upon the Earth.
Metals in the Machine:
**Recovered by Recycling