By Hernan Prados
Every September, tech enthusiasts stand in long lines, stay up late and even sleep on the streets to get the newest, latest, most advanced smart (insert name of devise here). Society has a technology addiction; every year there has to be a new phone, a new computer, or a new tablet. If you do not rock the latest iPhone or Smartphone, your ability to fit in might be in jeopardy, since your phone might not support the means of communications used by your peers. If your phone is not able to upload Snapchats or Instagram stories you might be left out. These are some of the reasons why people update their devices so frequently. Another reason is that devices are capable of doing more and more things nowadays, and people want the ability to do more things on the go or be more efficient while doing them. Ten years ago, the most common way to send an email or a word document was with a laptop, now this is all done with cellphones, or should I say smartphones?
The increasing pace at which devices are discarded in lieu of new ones is unprecedented, the question is, what happens with those devices we no longer use? The phone we used to use back in high school, the not so flat TV’s where we used to watch the games on Sundays. Most of these devices are either broken or obsolete, unfortunately it is cheaper to buy a new one rather than fixing it. Therefore, people just order a new TV or a new cellphone and discard the old ones. This in turn, generates a significant problem since there is not enough space in developed nations to store all of these useless devices that have just become obsolete.
What normally happens is that all these devices get sent to so called “developing nations” where under the pretext that they are “used goods”, the companies in charge of the disposal, save up the recycling cost by labeling the broken TVs, washers, fridges or phones as potentially useful items. The worst part is that all of this is legal. The impact of all of this is that while it is true that some of the devices are potentially useful, the overwhelming majority are just broken electronics that are sent to developing nations to store due to the lack of space in developed countries. I mean, that broken TV or fridge it took you and your roommates a while to carry down the stairs of your apartment has to go somewhere right?
Every American on average disposes of 29.5 kilos or 65 pounds of E-waste a year, that amounts to ten million tons for the United States alone. The problem is not the technological advances and how much technology has advanced, but the societal norm that when something is old or broken, we discard it, not seeing potential uses. In those land fields, there are people living off of what precious metals they can find on these electronics, mainly copper, gold, zinc and even lithium batteries. However, being a rudimentary process, those individuals are experiencing illnesses related with the contact of these metals due to the lack of sophistication in the extraction of the materials.
If all of the recycling was done in developed nations, not only would the prices of the goods be cheaper since access to the material will be readily available, but less exploitation of natural resources will occur in developing countries. The problem of E-waste is a cycle, developing nations’ natural resources are exploited to extract precious metals. Then, developed nations use those resources to create devices. Once the devices are no longer of use for that developed society, those same nations send the obsolete products back to developing nations where they extract the precious metals and retro feed the cycle again.
Some agencies such as the European Environment Agency, are pushing for more regulation regarding the disposal of electronics. More importantly, the United Nations is placing an emphasis on recycling devices and finding new uses for old devices. Imposing regulations on manufacturers, such as incorporating recycled materials in their new devices, and trade-in systems incentivizing the customer to trade-in their device for recycling in exchange for a discount, would mitigate the problem. These programs and regulations can actually prevent society from accumulating tons and tons of obsolete devices, getting rid once and for all, of that old phone in the drawer that simply accumulates dust.
Student Bio: Hernan Prados is a second-year student at Suffolk University Law School. He is currently a staff member on the Journal of High Technology Law. Hernan is Originally from Spain and he received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Suffolk University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.