With newer tech comes more electronic waste

By Tejas Badgujar | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Shopping has become an inevitable part of our society. The consumption of goods is not only encouraged, but also made necessary to fit in today’s world.

The frequency of new products arriving in markets is at an all-time high with no signs of slowing down. The trend among consumers has become to have the newest, fastest, shiniest product available. 

Some products in the electronics industry have “built-in obsolescence,” which refers to products that are purposely built with a shorter life-span in order to increase sales for the company. A common example of this would be companies limiting the new features to only their latest products, whereas these features could easily be accessible to older devices with simple lines of code. 

This is an active choice that the company makes in order to persuade its customers to switch to the new products even when there isn’t a need to.

Some companies, like Apple, are promoting their new product, the 2018 MacBook Air as “The greenest Mac ever,” as it’s made from 100 percent recycled aluminum. 

“It’s great news. It shows the value of recycling when big companies take such steps,” said Thomas Gash, an adjunct professor of environmental science at Flagler College.

However, new products mean more electronic waste. 

Even though these are great advancements for the future of manufacturing, there is a fundamental flaw that Apple and other similar companies are failing to address:  they are promoting new products instead of encouraging reusability. There is a fourth lesser known “R” in the popularly known “3Rs of Recycling.” Reduce, reuse and recycle are frequently advocated, but the fourth “R” refers to “Refuse,” that encourages refusing to purchase a product in the first place. 

“People are aware it exists, but they are not aware of the benefits, they don’t realize how good it is for the environment and economy,” Gash said. 

Most people try to recycle and believe that it is the solution to all problems. They fail to realize that recycling is the last step they can take to save the environment. Resources have already been exhausted to make the product in the first place and even more so to recycle it. Refusing and reducing is the best action one can take for the environment.

“It is better to keep using the current product until it fails or becomes completely obsolete,” he said.

After all the efforts have been made to avoid the product in the first place, then one can move on to recycling as much as they can.

“When we recycle plastic, we save petroleum resources. The aim is creating a close-looped economy,” he said.

Anytime we buy something, there are a lot more indirect resources the product uses in its manufacturing, packaging and shipping process that we don’t see, said Olivia Smith, the recycling coordinator for the city of St. Augustine.

“Use what’s already out there,” Smith said. “It’s good for consumers because it drives the market price down and taxpayer money goes down.” 

A significant amount of tax money is utilized to clean up the environment after the pollution caused by resource mining activities. Materials like cobalt, zinc, cadmium, copper, metallic oxide and other carbon-based materials are utilized in making a phone. Most of these materials can be reused from old recycled phones instead of mining for new ones.

The goal is to reduce overall consumption by expanding the lifespan of the product, either by continuing to use it, repairing it or donating it. 

“You may need the newest product, but someone else may not,” she said. “There are always ways to put it back in the loop.”

Both Gash and Smith placed an emphasis on “closing the loop,” or reusing materials already in circulation instead of mining for new raw materials.

There are plenty of ways this can be done. Firstly, try to avoid purchasing products unless there is an absolute necessity. Secondly, use a product for as long as it is fully functional.

Once you have used the product to its full potential, Smith said, you have the option or selling it, donating it, or simply dropping it off at local e-waste collection facilities to help put them back in the system.

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