Do we realize where our “toys” end up?

published Aug 14, 2015
1 min read

Some of the statistics that appear when you start digging up data on the actual amount of e-waste can be horrifying. Most people with an average consumption of digital “toys”, usually don’t consider where the old TV, mobile phone, toaster, dishwasher ends up when it reach its expiry date. The trashcan becomes the mental end station for the majority of consumers. What happens on the other side of the trashcan, a growing amount companies tries to deal with on a daily basis.

When looking only at the lifespan of computers, tablets, mobile phones and similar products and where most the e-waste ends up, this is what shows up.

From a production perspective the market is every year flooded with about 50 million tons of electronics. It calculates into the weight of 955 Titanic ships, which on top of each other would be 5.5 times taller than Mount Everest.

With the demand of electronics that the market experiences today, and the need for more and more gadgets and tools to ease the tasks of every person’s life, it might not come as such a shock after all. But then again, this is only counting the electronics that enters market in a year. What happens to the electronics from last year that has served its duty?

Out of all the electronics that is leaving the market only 12 percent of the e-waste is being processed in some way and reused for other purposes. That means that 88 percent of the total amount of e-waste ends up somewhere else. But where? Investigations show that the rest ends up being transported to China or Africa where most of it piles up on giant dumpsites, with the size of big cities. That way the western world won’t have to deal with it.

When a single computer and a screen is being produced, it takes 21 kg of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water. The pile of computer dumped in nature slowly deteriorates, and those chemicals return to nature in an unprocessed form, which has severe consequences for the plant life and ecosystems surrounding the dumpsites.

But why would humanity choose to dump such obscene amount of waste in nature? Because it’s affordable. It’s cheaper than to reprocess the materials, and the fact that is it dump in Africa and China means that the average consumer won’t notice it and therefore won’t act on it.

When looking at the growth in the electronics market, we see that in 1975 the annual production of computers was on 50.000 units. 25 years later that number had increased to 135 million units. In 2011 that number had reached 355 million units. It can be assumed that the number is still growing today.

This trend is of course fueled by the fact that the lifespan of a single computer has gone from 6 years in 1975 to 2 years in 2002 and is probably decreasing today.

Some companies has found a way to make profit on prolonging the lifespan of a computer by disassembling the parts and replacing the broken parts. Among those companies we find the Danish company Refurb1, who acquires used computers, tablets, mobile phones with accessories from consumers and companies, and resells the electronics again with the bad parts replaced. Refurb estimates that 90 percent of each electronic devices are being resold. That way the lifespan of a computer might be doubled.

Other companies are competing in offering the cheapest way of disposing e-waste in a way that doesn’t harm nature. The buyers of these services are mostly governments.

A complete graphic on the above mentioned statistics can be found on Refurb Infograpic