The importance of recycling electronics in a tech-obsessed culture

computer board
Photo by Randy Pertiet

With the holiday season approaching quickly, many people across the world will soon be finding themselves gifted with new gadgets, leaving them to wonder what to do with their outdated technology. If it’s a recent model, it can be resold for a small amount, but if the device is more than a few years old it’s likely not worth much, and as such may wind up in the trash.

It’s this recurring dilemma that’s making electronic waste one of the fastest growing environmental concerns – not only because it means a device that could be recycled is being thrown away, but also because many computer devices and circuit boards contain chemicals that really shouldn’t be put in a landfill, where they can decompose and leak into the Earth’s soil. The sustainability issue around computer devices is well-known in the industry, and has all of the major players taking the environmental impact of their devices much more seriously. For instance, Apple recently hired former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Lisa Jackson to lead its environmental efforts.

Another reason why a computer device shouldn’t be disposed of in the same fashion as organic material is the high value of the materials it’s composed of. Precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium and ruthenium can be found in a wide variety of electronic and computer devices, and can be stripped for recycling purposes. And of course, the owner would reap the financial benefits when these types of materials can be extracted and sold.

And even if your electronics contain the hazardous materials that we want to keep out of our soils, third-party recycling and refining companies are registered with local environmental authorities and are able to follow the proper process to ensure the dangerous elements are disposed of safely and in an environmentally-friendly way.

If you happen to unwrap something metal and shiny this holiday season, be sure not to simply throw away the gadget you’re replacing.