E-Waste Piles Up With Each New Apple Announcement

By March 8, 2012

Apple’s iPad announcement today may move tablet technology forward, but it moves environmental initiatives backward. With each new product release, Apple diehards ditch their older hardware in favor of camping out all night at the Apple store to scoop up the newest model. But what happens to the hardware when we don’t want it anymore? If you don’t donate it to nonprofit or pass it down to a younger relative, you’re going to be adding to the estimated 20 – 50 million tons of electronic waste that get thrown into landfills.

There are companies that are trying to capitalize on the growing e-waste problem. Companies like Gazelle offer to buy back your used electronics in a process that they call reCommerce. Gazelle is the nation’s largest electronics reCommerce company, saving more than 100,000 gadgets each year. To sell your unwanted electronics back to Gazelle, all you have to do is fill out a form about your item to get a quote, mail in your item, then get paid. Gazelle buys primarily Apple products, as well as HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and Blackberry cell phones. Apple also offers its own recycling program for outdated models. Apple’s answer to e-waste is similar to Gazelle’s recycling program. Just tell Apple about your product, send it it, and receive an Apple gift card.

Unfortunately, a lot more items are thrown away than are recycled. Only 10 – 18% of discarded electronics are recycled for parts or rehabbed. Although Apple claims to be an environmentally aware company by offsetting carbon emissions and shrinking packing for new products, Apple is a company that creates demand for products that are toxic when thrown away.

At today’s Apple event, CEO Tim Cook noted that Apple sold 172 million post-pc devices in the last year. Post-pc devices include your iPhone, your iPad, your iPod touch, etc. According to Cook, post-pc devices accounted for 76% of Apple’s revenue last year. The more we buy, the more valuable Apple becomes.

So what can you do to reduce your contribution to e-waste?

Buy every other model. I have the first iPad, and I decided to wait for the third iPad before buying a new one. The differences between the iPad and the iPad 2 weren’t enough to justify the purchase. I knew that something better would be released, and I was right. Also: RETINA DISPLAY!

Give your outdated models to kids in need. Not every family can afford to buy Apple products. If you upgrade, donate your working Apple products to an after school program or a family with school aged kids.

Keep it and turn it into an art project. I’m serious. Last year I went to a gdgt show in NYC and AT&T had a display that featured all of their cellphones from the giant car phones to the iPhone. It was spectacular to see how cellphone technology has changed so rapidly in a short time. The Geekery category on Etsy also has some amazing proucts made from recycled computer parts.

There is nothing wrong with pushing technology forward, but consumers need to look at their gadget consumption with the same scrupulous attention that they give to their plastic bag consumption.

Here is an infographic provided by WellHome that describes how our gadget fetishes can impact our environment:

E-Waste infographic