Let's Mine E-Waste, Not Earth
We greet you on this World Environment Day 2022 with a cautious tale about our planet: Nature is in emergency mode.
Actually, triple planetary emergency mode. We’re currently using 1.6 Earths to maintain our modern way of life. This reality is 1) accelerating climate change, 2) advancing threats to biodiversity, and 3) increasing pollution that’s poisoning our air, land and water.
Ecosystems simply can’t keep up.
This year’s theme for World Environment Day is “Only One Earth.” It’s the idea that individual consumption choices are important. But in order to save our planet, collective action is needed to achieve transformative change on a global scale.
Held every year since 1973, World Environment Day has grown into the largest global platform for environmental outreach. With over 150 participating countries, WED is a key moment for spotlighting big ecological issues, advocating for change, and taking real action.
As global citizens, we support all efforts to counter negative forces impacting our planet. As an electronics manufacturer, we’re responsible for our contribution to this emergency via electronic waste.
"Ten phones, two laptops, digital cameras... all just sitting here. We're not dealing with it."
Today’s world is digital. Gadgets are frequently evolving to improve every aspect of modern life. However, technological progress isn’t the only thing rapidly rising.
The rate consumers are adopting new tech is also speeding up. In just the last five years, half of all US households adopted tablets, while total smartphone usage surged over 50%. This influx of hardware isn’t likely to slow anytime soon. With over 4000 Global Consumer Electronics Manufacturers still operating as of 2022, the infrastructure to meet this demand remains firmly in place.
So, what does this mean? More electronics will be stuffed into landfills each year. Since 2014, total e-waste volume increased more than 21%, reaching over 57 million tons generated globally last year. Shockingly, small gadgets like tablets and smartphones account for 1/3 of it.
E-waste itself presents a range of environmental dangers. But as demand for new tech heats up, the impending–and often overlooked–shortage of rare earth minerals (REMs) is creating its own havoc.
Think of a smartphone. Americans discard 600,000+ of them every day. Each contains around 30 different REMs such as gallium, indium, yttrium, and tantalum, which could all run out within the next 100 years. These devices also include precious metals (such as gold, silver and platinum), and common metals (such as aluminum, cadmium, zinc, and copper) which are being mined at a higher rate than ever before.
Apart from what’s dumped in landfills, human populations are literally sitting on mountains of these precious resources. Just check your junk drawer and count the old cell phones, cables, chargers, etc. A recent study estimates well over 200 million unused gadgets are currently languishing in US homes.
Mine E-Waste, Not Earth
“A ton of circuit boards contains 40 to 800 times more gold and 30 to 40 times more copper than a ton of ore.”
It can’t be denied that these minerals and metals are indispensable to economic growth everywhere. Yet, despite the projected increase in demand, mining land for raw materials remains one of the most environmentally and socially hazardous human activities. Major action on e-waste collection, recycling, and reuse is not only our best weapon to slow its environmental impact, but critical to the health of millions of people.
The mining industry for metals currently contributes approximately 8% of the global carbon footprint, ora at least 3 billion tons of CO2 each year. Depending on the processes used, recycling and remanufacturing can reduce 30-50% of carbon emissions that original processes produce.
Around 79% of global metal ore extraction originates from five of six of the most species-rich biomes on earth, with mining volumes doubling over the last two decades. By restoring just 15% of these converted lands and stopping further conversion of natural ecosystems, we can prevent 60% of expected species extinctions.
Discarded electronics may only represent 2% of America’s trash, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste, and 40% of heavy metals in U.S. landfills. Beyond our borders, upwards of 10 million tons of e-waste is dumped in developing countries, where it litters the streets and poisons local residents. By expanding recycling and reuse efforts, we can cut pollution exponentially while reducing our need for costly extraction.
We need Collective Action NOW!
For the consumer electronics industry, collective action requires all brands (big and small) working to create a higher standard for doing business. But brands can’t just rely on making commitments and setting goals. We must take bold steps toward impact reduction now.
Understandably, most brands are hesitant due to profit margins and a lack of competence in sustainable manufacturing processes. However, one of the biggest challenges facing our industry is consumer education. If more companies prioritized teaching why e-waste recycling is vital and how to get involved, customers are likely to get onboard. A recent survey shows 57% of people are worried about the environmental impact of tech, but they just don’t know what to do with it. Interestingly, the same segment also believes manufacturers should be responsible for the recycling and sustainability of the tech products they create.
Certified e-waste recyclers such as Homeboy Electronics Recycling exist, and like any business, are eager to expand operations. But also like other businesses, large investments in recycling infrastructure are needed to process current levels of waste. Demand for recycled materials is the essential catalyst for this transition.
In 2018, Nimble was founded with the mission to change the consumer tech industry for good. This inspired us to push harder, and conquer any obstacle preventing real changes to how business in our industry is done. By creating all products with recycled materials and establishing Nimble’s Nationwide Recycling Program, we proved that customers are more than ready for consumer electronics brands to transform.
This year, we expanded our Nationwide Recycling Program to over 1500 drop-off locations, and already doubled our rate of e-waste collection! Thanks to the Nimble Community and our partners at VICTRA, we’ve successfully recycled over 18,500 lbs of e-waste and plastic phone cases as of June 1, 2022. Learn more about these programs by visiting https://www.gonimble.com/pages/recycling-program. To find a local Nimble Drop-Off location in your neighborhood, visit https://victra.com/nimble-accessories-recycling-program/.
Like any day, World Environment Day is the perfect moment. Let’s use it to educate ourselves, advocate for change–and most importantly–take collective action for our only earth.