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What happens to Old Computers: Dealing with E-Waste

Computers are one of those magical things that pretty much run our society at this point. Try to imagine a time, back in the day when you even had to use a map in order to get to a place you weren’t familiar with.

Think about all the generations of young people that would perhaps not even know how to read a map, simply given the fact that they grew up in a time when maps had been replaced by something a lot more convenient. 

Growing up, I remember how we would have a map in the compartment box in the car, and how it would be swapped out depending on where we were going. Before heading on a trip anywhere, it was simply important to actually make sure that that country’s map was in the compartment box so that we would make sure that we could actually be getting to the place that we had to go to. Perhaps you already had the map available, or you would have gone to a bookstore or another place that would sell them.

Regardless of where you went, maps were a big part of planning something as simple as a trip. Since those days, a revolution of sorts has occurred, and physical maps have been replaced by a GPS. This little gizmo is placed on the window of a car and provides you with the directions that your destination, greatly simplifying travel.

Eventually, phones started becoming more and more powerful, offering the complete feature-set of a full-blown computer in your palm. The price of mobile data also started going down. It went from being a simple calling device with games like Snake (yes, I am talking about the wildly popular Nokia 3310), to something that you could simply not leave the house without.

Where we might previously be asking a complete stranger for directions, we became more and more accustomed to asking Siri for directions, as well as the range of other things that she would rapidly develop into being capable of providing us with. 

From GPSs to smartphones, and all the other things in between, it would soon become apparent that all these devices pose their own set of challenges, including what we actually do with them once they stop working. The average smartphone is replaced every 3.17 years, despite the fact that most are developed well-enough to last 5 years, with some even capable of lasting as long as a whole decade.

While all these improvements in technology may have yielded significant usability improvements for consumers, this boon in electronics poses one major issue: What to do with all the electronic or E-waste?

As pointed out by Check4Lead, phones, and computers not only contain various precious-metal-containing chips but also a range of less desired components like lead and other types of toxic components that may poison the environment if not disposed of properly.

Circuit boards that are common in PCs contain significant levels of lead, a material that was banned from consumer products in 1992, and from residential paint in 1977. In addition to that, many of these devices even contain substances such as mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals which can make their disposal a safety hazard.

In fact, while e-waste may account for only 4% of all trash, it makes up for as much as 40% of the global lead pollution. Although some of it ends up in a landfill in the US and other developed countries, a lot of it ends up being shipped to countries where labor costs are lower, and environmental laws are absent.

While you may believe that your e-waste is being handled properly, the sad reality is that you don’t have a lot of control over what happens to much of it, including where it’s recycled. There is no denying that we as a society are enjoying the benefits that technological progress has brought us, but it certainly comes at a cost. While you were upgraded your PC to the new Ryzen 7 processor, your old hardware is likely sitting in some third-world country disrupting the local eco-system.