According to the United Nation’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, in 2019 there was a record level of electronic waste (e-waste) worldwide, clocking in at 53.6 million metric tons of various consumer electronics (CE) from mobile phones and computers to appliances and other CE devices.
This waste is equalivent to 350 cruise ships in the size of the Queen Mary 2. According to the report, in 2019, only 17% of that waste was recycled and by 2030, the amount of e-waste is expected to double.
In the United States, there are only 25 states plus the District of Columbia that have e-waste legislation on the books – California in 2003 and the District of Columbia in 2014.
According to Justin Wetherill, President and Co-founder of uBreakiFix, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream, with high-tech turnover a major factor.
“For us, diverting e-waste starts with educating consumers about device repair as a favorable alternative to replacement, and then making the repair process as convenient, affordable, and seamless as possible to encourage adoption,” said Wetherill. “Through repair, we’re able to help customers extend the lifespan of their devices so they can upgrade when they want to, not because they feel they have to. We can also help customers fix any damage ahead of a trade-in or if they’re wanting to upcycle their device.”
Wetherill says that if a device is beyond repair, or if a customer no longer has a need for it, the company can take them off the customers’ hands and responsibly recycle them through a new partnership with Samsung.
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“Electronic devices have evolved. Older devices can contain sensitive materials such as lead and mercury, requiring special recycling processes to ensure there is no contamination to our land and waterways,” said Ramon Gregory, senior vice president, Samsung Care. “Newer equipment eliminates these materials but still requires proper management to recover valuable commodities and materials for reuse in the supply chain.”
“Cell phones and tablets are the devices we see being upcycled the most (..) as their functionality tends to outlast the typical upgrade cycle,” said Wetherill. “With proper care and maintenance, these can have great “second lives.”
Wetherill says the company has seen much more upcycling since the onset of the pandemic because families are bringing in tech they need for work or school, or that they had previously forgotten about, like old game consoles and hoverboards.
“Vintage tech is another cool upcycling niche. Customers get really excited about reviving some of their childhood tech, like old Nintendo or Game Boy consoles,” adds Wetherill.
“This is an industry that is continually seeking to improve how our favorite devices look, feel, and perform and for consumers, it’s only natural to want to upgrade to the latest and greatest tech; but oftentimes, our current models are still perfectly functional,” said Wetherill. “It can be tough to reconcile this desire for “newness” with the growing environmental impact of our tech consumption.”
Wetherill says they see that millennials leading the charge on tech upcycling, but as Gen Z starts to grow up, they expect their behaviors to have an even greater impact on both economic and environmental trends.
“Gen Z is more educated and interested in sustainability than any generation before it, and we hope to see that reflected in the handling of their devices,” said Wetherill.