We have been ringing the alarm bells for years about the waste produced by our old electronic devices. And today, we have very precise data, thanks to estimates made by WEEE Forum, an association bringing together dozens of organizations around the world, and which campaigns for more responsibility for manufacturers of devices in the management of electronic waste. .
According to a BBC article, based on global trade data, WEEE Forum that users today own a total of 16 billion mobile devices (smartphones included). And of these 16 billion, 5.6 billion mobiles will become waste this year. If piled up, these 5.6 billion pieces of waste would reach a height of 50,000 km.
Of course, this is very bad news for the planet. First of all, part of these mobiles, which will no longer be used, will be thrown away by users, increasing the amount of electronic waste in the world.
But that’s not all. Indeed, even when the user does not throw away his electronic device, but does not recycle it, this causes a waste of natural resources. Our electronic devices contain components and materials that should be reused for new products. When gold, copper, silver, palladium and other components don’t come from recycled devices, they come from mines!
“People tend not to realize that all of these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value and together, globally, represent huge volumes”, said the director general of the WEEE Forum, Pascal Leroy, quoted by the BBC. And since small products like smartphones aren’t bulky, they can sit in a drawer for years without being recycled.
Why are these products not recycled?
The forum also publishes the results of a survey carried out among 8,775 European households (Portugal, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia and the United Kingdom). And according to this, on average, a household would include 74 electronic products, including smartphones, tablets, computers, power tools, and other household appliances (but not lamps).
Of these 74 electronic products, 13 would be kept, but no longer used (9 objects in working order and 4 no longer working). This survey also reveals why these electronic products are kept instead of being resold or recycled.
And the number one reason, for 46% of responses, would be that the user feels they might still need the device. However, in 15% of responses, respondents indicate that they intend to give away or resell. Other reasons are mentioned. For example, some respondents believe that an electronic device can increase in value later, and others worry about the presence of sensitive data in these devices.
What are the solutions to this waste?
“Providing collection boxes in supermarkets, collecting small broken devices when new devices are delivered and offering post boxes for the return of small electronic waste are just some of the initiatives put in place to encourage the return of these articles”, comments Pascal Leroy.
The good news is that a priori, the smartphone industry is increasingly aware of the problem of electronic waste. Indeed, in recent years, brands have continued to improve their policies to extend the duration of mobiles.
For example, if you buy a Pixel 7 or Pixel 7 Pro from Google now, you’ll be able to use it until October 2027 because the Mountain View company will continue to provide security updates at least. Samsung has a comparable policy. And at Apple, the duration of support for older models is even longer.
With regard to repairability, positive developments have also been observed. Apple, Samsung and Google, for example, even offer kits to allow the bravest users to repair their smartphones themselves.
Otherwise, a change in the economic model could also change the situation. Currently, when you buy a smartphone, it becomes your property. But another model is possible: that of the subscription.
This is the bet of two European manufacturers: HMD (which produces Nokia smartphones) and Fairphone. These already offer subscriptions that allow you to use their products, are really owners. At the end of the subscription, or if the user wants a newer model, the smartphone is returned. Then, the device is either recycled or reconditioned. Note that currently, rumors indicate that Apple is also interested in this subscription system.