Choose your next cell­phone care­fully and re­cy­cle old ones

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - YOUTH -

As more and more of the world de­vel­ops — and smart­phones be­come ubiq­ui­tous — elec­tronic waste (aka “e-waste”) is a big­ger prob­lem than ever.

Around the world, peo­ple gen­er­ate some 50 mil­lion tons of e-waste ev­ery year, much of which ends up im­prop­erly dis­posed of in land­fills where tox­ins com­mon in elec­tron­ics like lead, mer­cury and cad­mium can leach out and con­tam­i­nate sur­round­ing soils and ground­wa­ter. Much of the re­main­ing e-waste gets shipped off to devel­op­ing coun­tries de­spite the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences, or even worse, just dumped il­le­gally into the ocean.

But thanks to con­sumer pres­sure to do the right thing, most ma­jor elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers have started to pay at­ten­tion to the prob­lem and take ac­tion to re­duce the flow of e-waste.

Ap­ple, for in­stance, long tar­geted by Green­peace and oth­ers for lack of con­cern about the en­vi­ron­men­tal and health im­pacts of its sourc­ing and pro­duc­tion pro­cesses, has made great strides in the last five years in re­cov­er­ing cus­tomers’ old prod­ucts and reusing the con­stituent parts in new prod­ucts.

In 2015 alone, the com­pany col­lected some 90 mil­lion pounds (40.82 mil­lion kilo­grams) of Ap­ple-branded e-waste, re­cov­er­ing up­wards of 61 mil­lion pounds of ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing steel, plas­tics, glass, alu­minum, cop­per, cobalt, zinc, lead, nickel, sil­ver, tin and gold, to re-in­cor­po­rate into new prod­ucts.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates who love their iPhones can sleep eas­ier know­ing that lead, mer­cury, beryl­lium, arsenic, PVC, ph­tha­lates and bromi­nated flame re­tar­dants are no longer wel­come in or will soon be phased out of Ap­ple’s sup­ply chain.

But most of us up­grade our smart­phones ev­ery two years, so that means that even to­day’s greener iPhones still con­trib­ute to the e-waste prob­lem. Europe’s Fair­phone thinks it has the an­swer.

By in­cor­po­rat­ing long-last­ing design and fair-traded ma­te­ri­als, en­sur­ing good work­ing con­di­tions and mak­ing prod­ucts that are fully re­cy­clable, easy-to-fix and reusable, Fair­phone hopes to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the smart­phone mar­ket with its eco-con­scious prod­ucts.

As the elec­tron­ics in­dus­try ma­tures and moves to­ward more sus­tain­able com­po­nents, that com­bined with bet­ter design can also help re­duce the steady stream of e-waste. For in­stance, re­searchers at Lawrence Liver­more Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory have come up with a way to ex­tend the life and boost the pro­duc­tiv­ity of lithium ion bat­ter­ies — the stan­dard power source in to­day’s elec­tron­ics — by treat­ing their elec­trodes with hy­dro­gen. Such a devel­op­ment could be huge for pre­vent­ing e-waste, given that most of us toss our old phones within two years when the bat­tery in­side starts to de­te­ri­o­rate and un­der­per­form.

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