Here’s what you should do with that drawer full of old gadgets

Decades of the tech sector’s pressure to “innovate or die” have led to a long list of useful and flashy household tech products, but many of these same devices also have a need to be replaced at almost the same rapid rate that new technology emerges.

The result of this so-called planned obsolescence, combined with a limited number of options to repair older devices over the years, is a tsunami of electronic waste, also known as e-waste. And the fallout from it extends far beyond the headache of figuring out what to do with the clutter tucked away inside your home.

“Planned obsolescence just makes it worse. People now expect to get a new computer every three or four years, a new phone every two years,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based e-waste watchdog. groups. “It’s a mountain that just keeps growing.”

The most recent United Nation’s data indicates the world generated a staggering 53.6 metric tons of e-waste in 2019, and only 17.4% of that was recycled. The burden and harms of e-waste often fall to those in developing countries. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an “undetermined amount of used electronics is shipped from the United States and other developed countries to developing countries that lack the capacity to reject imports or to handle these materials appropriately.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last year that the disposal and processing of soaring e-waste can cause a range of “adverse child health impacts,” including changes in lung function, DNA damage and increased risk of some chronic illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease later in life.

Moreover, there are more than 18 million children and adolescents “actively engaged” in the informal e-waste processing industry, the WHO warned. Children and adolescents are often used to scour through mountains of e-waste in search of valuable materials such as copper and gold “because their small hands are more dexterous than those of adults,” the WHO said.

The issue of e-waste is “all about environmental justice at the global level,” Puckett said. “It’s about keeping the rich countries from dumping their waste and dirty technologies on developing countries.”

A man sits in front of electronic waste or e-waste from computers at a workshop in New Delhi, India, in July 2020.

The growing environmental crisis is now catching the attention of lawmakers from Europe to the United States, as well as communities in the developing nations where e-waste has historically been offshored.

EU officials last month approved a new law requiring all phones and electronics to use a standard, brand-agnostic charger, with the potential to limit how many different wires the average consumer needs to own. Three progressive American lawmakers urged in a letter for the US to follow suit.

Sens. Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders said the novel EU policy “has the potential to significantly reduce e-waste and help consumers who are tired of having to rummage through junk drawers full of tangled chargers to find a compatible one, or buy a new one,” in a letter addressed to the US Commerce secretary. The senators alluded
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