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The Underrated Impact of Electronics Recycling on the Environment and Economy

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s been drilled into most of us for decades, reaching back to the 1970s when it was first popularized. And when it comes to electronics, recycling is a key way that we can protect the environment. But there are some surprising economic impacts that e-waste recycling can have, too.

Here’s what you need to know.

Impacts on the environment

When we don’t recycle our electronic devices, they end up going where all the other garbage goes: Landfills. That’s not ideal for the vast majority of the items that get thrown away every year, but when it comes to electronics, it can be downright dangerous. That’s because of the way these items break down.

Not only do these items often have plastic parts built into them, which takes much, much longer to break down than organic materials (think: 20 to 500 years), but as electronics break down, they can leach toxins (like lead and cadmium) into the local environment, poisoning the groundwater. That can be extremely dangerous for the people who live in that area, leading to health issues like cancer and neurological issues. And mining for new materials to keep up with the demand of electronics certainly has negative environmental impacts on local habitats that can last for years after the mine shuts down.

Recycling our electronics properly can lead to fewer CO2 emissions, which is a solid way to help address climate change.

Impacts on the economy

From an economic perspective, there is a huge consequence from not dealing with e-waste properly, too: The loss of resources that would otherwise be reused for other electronics.

Currently, that’s translating to a $57 billion in losses per year. And it means that companies manufacturing our electronics may have to rely more on mining for new resources like iron, copper, and gold. That requires more investment for less raw materials. In fact, there is “100 times more gold in a tonne of mobile phones than in a tonne of gold ore,” according to the World Economic Forum. (Yes, really.)

While it’s hard to pinpoint what causes the rise in prices for electronics as factors like inflation and innovation take their toll, this increased investment in procuring raw materials could be a contributing factor.

How you can help with the e-waste problem

Right now, less than 20% of e-waste is being recycled. The best thing that you can do about this, on an individual level, is to use your electronics for as long as possible to reduce the need for new electronics and buy used, if possible. Plus, this can help with your finances, especially if you’re smart about how you use that cash.

Let’s say you’re spending $1,000 a year on a new phone, but this year you choose to put that money into a retirement account. If that money grows by 7% per year over the next 30 years, it would translate to over $7,600. And that’s assuming you left it alone for that entire time period and didn’t invest additional money.

Beyond that, when it is time to get rid of your existing electronics, recycling them at your local e-cycle station or retailer that accepts this type of material is ideal since they are set up to handle this type of recycling. This is often free, too, so other than transportation, it shouldn’t break your budget.

Still, if this is difficult to access where you live or based on your circumstances, you might consider saving up your electronics for a while until you have enough to send out that it will make it worth the effort. (Just remember that batteries may need to be recycled separately.) You can find options in your area here:


E-waste is a big problem. And while it’s not the average person’s fault, it is still our responsibility to properly dispose of the electronics we rely upon so heavily to run our lives. Luckily, there are resources available to recycle these products in a safer way. We just have to be willing to utilize them.

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