Image from Twitter/@AlamWaste

October 14 is International E-waste Day, and disused mobile phones present a huge waste problem. This also comes at a time when traditional e-waste recycling like hydrometallurgy, and pyrometallurgy are being proven to be less green than earlier assumed as they still release carbon dioxide, dioxins, furans, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid into the environment. Scientists are scrambling to find greener recycling, with electrodeposition being their best shot so far.

According to recent data collected by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEEE Forum), 5.3 billion of the 16 billion mobile phones in use will be discarded this year. So are items such as headphones and remote controls.

Other devices that are posing a huge waste problem are food preparation equipment, household equipment like clocks and irons, as well as small IT gear like external hard drives, Wi-Fi routers, and computer peripherals. This electronic waste is cluttered in homes or ends up in landfills in countries like Ghana, causing health hazards to communities and people who handle them for recycling.

“These devices offer many important resources that can be used in the production of new electronic devices or other equipment, such as wind turbines, electric car batteries or solar panels — all crucial for the green, digital transition to low-carbon societies,” says Magdalena Charytanowicz who is the organizer of WEEE Forum’s International E-Waste Day.

What most consumers remain oblivious to is the fact that they’re sitting on or discarding wealth of gold, copper, silver, palladium, and other reclaimable internal materials from these devices and appliances. Meanwhile, the demand for rare earth minerals required for the manufacture of new devices continues to grow unabated, sometimes resulting in conflict and a big environmental footprint among other ethical concerns especially in mineral-rich countries.

To help cut back on e-waste, consumers are urged to spring clean and make sure unused electronics are either reused, resold, or disposed of sustainably.

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