2022 will see 5.3 billion phones discarded, experts warn

E-waste will increase to 74 million tonnes annually by 2030.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Mobile phones should be recycled.jpg
Mobile phones should be recycled.

baranozdemir/iStock 

We have a serious e-waste problem, according to the international waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) forum. This year alone, 5.3 billion mobile phones will go to landfills, the organization told the BBC on Friday.

Precious minerals left to waste

This means that a lot of the precious minerals that cannot be extracted from waste electronics, such as the copper in wire or the cobalt in rechargeable batteries, will have to be mined, a notoriously polluting activity.

"People tend not to realize that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value and together at a global level represent massive volumes," WEEE director general Pascal Leroy told the BBC.

The organization further estimates that there are 16 billion mobile phones worldwide - almost a third of which are no longer in use.

These phones, along with electrical and electronic waste from other sources, will grow to 74 million tonnes a year by 2030, estimates the WEEE.

"These devices offer many important resources that can be used in the production of new electronic devices or other equipment, such as wind turbines, electric car batteries or solar panels - all crucial for the green, digital transition to low-carbon societies,” Magdalena Charytanowicz, of the WEEE, told BBC.

2022 will see 5.3 billion phones discarded, experts warn
E-waste is a significant problem.

What can be done to curb the problem of e-waste? Leroy has some suggestions.

"Providing collection boxes in supermarkets, pick-up of small broken appliances upon delivery of new ones and offering PO [post-office] boxes to return small e-waste are just some of the initiatives introduced to encourage the return of these items," he said.

Brave solutions for a serious problem

But we can take it one step further and simply not throw so much electronics away. To do that, we need to repair them.

This approach might seem unconventional. After all, who doesn’t want to trade in their old phone for that shiny new iPhone? However, behaving this way will soon leave our planet in despair.

If an electronic device still has some good life in it, it would be wise to fix it and keep using it. This is also why planned obsolescence needs to also be reconsidered.

Companies need to consciously start producing electronic devices that have long lifetimes and can be easily repaired when damaged. This may cost consumers a little more over the short term, but it will save them money over the long term.

It will also help save our planet from the formidable problem of e-waste.

Finally, for devices that cannot be saved, it is important to consider how they may be up-cycled creatively into useful and sometimes stylish alternatives. This watch made from garbage comes to mind.

The problem of e-waste is large, but with a bit of positive thinking and some ingenious ideas can ensure that it gets tackled resourcefully.

Can you think of any solutions to our growing e-waste problem?

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