The rising e-waste crisis may be a global issue but compared to the rest of the first world, America does not seem too willing to deal with the problem.
For starters, there is no way to know how much e-waste is being produced or recycled in the country. To this day, only 25 states in the US have laws and legislations that address e-waste recycling. The other 50% of the country is perfectly happy piling up its landfills with toxic and poisonous waste. In 30 states, you are 100% within your legal rights to toss away your phones or flat screens in your bin, because EPA exempts most households and small businesses from its environmental regulations.
Second, the US does not follow through on the laws that address e-waste recycling. Both in and outside the country. For example, it has signed the Basel Convention – a multilateral environmental agreement that, among other things, prohibits the movement of hazardous e-waste from developed nations to the developing nations. The idea is to safely manage the e-waste and not just dump it upon countries and people that are ill equipped to handle it. Even though it’s a signatory, the US is the only country that has not stopped or even reduced such transfers.
80% of US e-waste still goes to countries like India and Pakistan. China used to be a recipient, too, but it has recently refused to accept any recycling materials from the US. The reason being it contained contaminated materials and was not sorted according to the standards.
Jim Puckett, cofounder of the Basil Action Network called out the US by saying ‘it used to be a leader in hazardous waste management, but no longer.”
And he’s right. In a list of top 25 recycling countries in the world, America is at the bottom, at no. 25.
Third, there is a sense of disconnect with the whole problem, which is quite surprising. Considering how much everyone talks about it, and the amount of mainstream media attention it gets, most Americans should have had become recycling experts by now. Yet, many don’t even understand how product labels work, and end up throwing away perfectly good food in the bins, which further aggravates the recycling problem.
But this unawareness is not limited to average Americans only. Most congressmen also seem challenged when faced with the gravity of the problem. Bills die long and forgotten deaths on Senate and House tables. And while some States do have robust environmental laws in place, no federal law explicitly tackles or addresses the e-waste issue.
Lastly, most Americans have a huge appetite when it comes to buying and owning the newest gadget in the market. Most of us throw away our old phones and other devices just so we could buy shinier, pricier, newer gadgets. While a case can be made in support of having to buy the latest tech – old tech does not work optimally with new software updates – it will be akin to focusing on the symptoms and ignoring the festering wound.
The wound in this case is how blatantly and openly Big Tech keeps funding and championing the harmful culture of obsolescence. Companies like Apple and Samsung keep releasing multiple new products every year with little to no discernable changes from one version to the next. People are enticed by the use of clever marketing and consumer psychology to buy these new products that are almost no different to the one that they already have.
You betcha. But, unless, we, as a nation, are willing and ready to overhaul our e-waste industry, not much can be changed in the coming few years. To bring effective change, we’ll need to get serious about things such as specific e-waste laws that simplify the steps we need to take; partnering manufacturers with recycling vendors and NGOs so the e-waste issue can get tackled at the local level; and, most importantly, creating tech products that remain relevant and functional with multiple software updates over a long period of time, creating a more sustainable tech industry that won’t collapse on itself.