60-Second Earth

Don't Treat Old Gadgets Like Garbage

E-waste is a large--and growing--problem that can be addressed by thoughtful disposal, David Biello reports

Did you get a new tablet or computer this holiday season? A new smartphone? Maybe a new TV? Here's a question to tell if you’re naughty or nice: what will you do with the old one?

Most people just throw old gadgets away. That's how nearly 50 million metric tons of so-called e-waste were produced in 2012—the weight of 150 Empire State Buildings. By 2017, that flood of e-waste will grow to more than 65 million metric tons—or 11 Great Pyramids worth. That’s according to a study from researchers at the UN, EPA and elsewhere.

Improper disposal of e-waste has led to some of the world's most toxic pollution hotspots. It's also a waste of resources, like valuable rare earth metals.

China produces the most total e-waste. But we Americans hold the title for biggest individual gadget lovers—and wasters. We produced an average of roughly 30 kilograms of e-waste per person in 2012. Impressive, given how light our gizmos are.

Reuse and recycling is the obvious answer. Good options exist, including some offered by gadget makers themselves, like Apple. But be careful. Some unscrupulous recyclers here in the U.S. simply dump the trashed gadgets overseas. And that's no gift.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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