Recycling is not the Solution; It's the Final Resort

Every year, millions of devices hit the end of their useful life. Recycling them isn't as efficient as you would think.

20% Lost

When a phone is shredded and melted down for recycling, between 20 and 35 percent of its material content is lost.

1,150 Lightbulbs

Your smartphone uses enough electricity to fuel 1,150 60-watt light bulbs for an hour during manufacturing—energy that is lost when the handset is shredded.

0 Smartphones

That is the total number of smartphones made entirely of recycled materials. We won't be able to make a new phone out of an existing one.

17 Rare Earths

Every electronic device you own contains critical rare earths. They can't be recycled in 99 percent of cases.

Electronics recycling is a waste of energy.

Recycling is preferable to throwing things away. However, it is not a solution—and it is not nearly as "green" as electronics manufacturers would have you believe.

When you buy a smartphone or tablet, you get something you can't see or touch: embodied energy.

Tons of raw materials, hundreds of man-hours, and enormous amounts of energy are required to manufacture the electronics that most of us use. The production of a smartphone accounts for 85 percent of its emissions impact. Smartphones and data centres are environmentally harmful and will have the highest carbon footprint in the tech industry by 2040.

How much energy is required to manufacture a computer? Almost as much as it takes to build your kitchen's large refrigerator.

Our electronics are not only smart, but they are also filthy.

Here's what goes into your items before you buy them:

1 Desktop

consumes up to 30 times its own weight in fossil fuels.

1 Microchip

absorbs 70 pounds of fresh water while weighing less than an ounce.

1 Laptop

produces over 500 pounds of carbon dioxide during manufacturing.

Recycling does not complete the cycle.

Consumer electronics are among the most difficult items to manufacture. The typical mobile phone contains at least 500 parts, the majority of which are a complex mix of different materials.
A typical smartphone is made up of around50% metals, many of which are alloyed together.
Some metals, such as essential rare earth elements, are too difficult or costly to separate out for recycling. Smelting will only recover a small amount of metals.

What's on your phone?

Half of the over 30 metals in your mobile phone have practical recycling rates of less than 50%, which means the properties that make the metal attractive in the first place cannot be preserved, and the metal cannot be reused.

There must be a better way...

Our best hope of reducing the environmental effect of our devices is to keep them around as long as possible.
The first line of defense against waste is repair. It increases the lifespan of electronics by allowing users to repair damaged parts, instal a better battery, or upgrade to higher-capacity RAM at any time. That means fewer products in landfills and fewer items in the shredders of recyclers.
Perhaps better, when anything is repaired, it maintains all of the resources and materials that were expended during the manufacturing process. Nothing is thrown away. Nothing has been lost.

Repairing is superior to recycling.

And we're not the only ones who believe this. Leading think tanks, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, believe that a Circular Economy, in which resources are planned for widespread reuse, is the best way to help both the economy and the environment.

Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and finally Recycle.

It's safer for the environment, your wallet, and your bottom line.

Learn More

Take Action

  • If you’re not going to use your device anymore, pass it on to a family member or friend who needs it.
  • Instead of recycling, sell your stuff on Craigslist or Swappa. Or sell your old phone to folks like Backmarket.
  • Encourage your company to donate old hardware to schools and reuse programs. Make sure they go on to a second life.
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