From Anakin being the possession of Watto the Toydarian junk dealer in the Phantom Menace–to Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewy being stuck warding off the Dianoga inside a trash compactor in the first Death Star in the original–to Rey picking junk off the crashed Star Destroyer and selling them to the Crolute Unkar Plutt on Jakku in The Force Awakens–Star Wars lore is filled with junk technology. If the back room of your business is starting to look like Watto’s shop, you may need to adjust your disposal strategies.
We completely understand that there are those people out there that like to fidget with old technology. The longer you can get use out of your tech, the more money you can avoid spending on it. The problem becomes when you don’t need the technology anymore, and don’t have any other plans with it. You can’t exactly put it on the curb for the garbage service to pick up, can you?
Old technology makes for a lot of trash, so much so that it has its own name. “E-waste”, as it is now known, is becoming a major issue both in developing nations as well as in developed countries. The United Nations estimates that between 20-to-50 million metric tons of e-waste is discarded every year. For the Jawas, Watto, or Rey that may be paydirt, but in reality, it can cause several environmental problems; and, with technology production at all-time high levels, the problems that e-waste causes is not going to go away.
What Is E-Waste?
The concept of e-waste is that once a computer, phone, or any other electronic device becomes antiquated, or breaks (as technology is known to do), it has to be disposed of. These products are a mix of several hundred materials and feature wiring and components that, in a perfect world, would be recycled. Products tend to have toxic metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium, as well as hazardous chemicals–effectively poisoning the land they are disposed in; and, often seeping into drinking water, ultimately damaging ecosystems.
Since it is a relatively new problem, a lot is being learned about the environmental impacts of e-waste. With estimates suggesting that only a quarter of e-waste is currently being recycled, it may be time for people to start considering enforceable regulation that calls for the mandatory recycling or proper disposal of these devices. The U.S. has passed the National Computer Recycling Act, but with the current Environmental Protection Agency all but defunded, there is truly no authority backing this program at present.
One problem is that even the companies that deal in e-waste aren’t all the same. Some recycling companies will properly recycle the electronics. They will disassemble and strip out all the components and repurpose them or sell them to manufacturers who can do the same. Some “recyclers” don’t function to those high standards. These organizations will take the e-waste and ship it to developing nations, inefficiently strip out the parts that they can sell back, and dump the rest, effectively polluting villages and cities in nations that don’t have formal disposal regulations.
What’s this Junk Worth?
Like the worlds depicted in Star Wars, the old components picked out of this e-waste are worth a pretty penny. A U.N. study referenced above suggests that the minerals, metals, and other useful components from the 44.7 million metrics tons of e-waste collected in 2016 were worth a staggering $65 billion. Rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, lithium, cobalt and other materials were recovered. With people replacing their personal technology every two-or-so years, it seems to be a growth industry.
In a study titled, “The Global E-waste Monitor 2017” e-waste is the fastest growing part of the world’s waste stream with each person averaging 13.5 pounds of e-waste per person, which is over three times less than the average for the typical American/Canadian. With so much e-waste accumulating, and such a small percentage of it being recycled (around 30%), there are significant opportunities for investment in companies that want to take on the growing e-waste menace.
Beyond that, some places like Agbogbloshie, a huge area outside of the Ghanan capital of Accra, is known for being the world’s largest e-waste dump. It sees thousands of children, some as young as five, working the landfill, burning the trash that had been dumped to expose anything of value. The people there burn plastic away from wires and collect metals and other valuables from the scrapyard, just as Rey did in Jakku’s Starship Graveyard, as means to eat for that day, but the myriad of contaminating materials produced by this practice is killing people fast. The local economy of Agbogbloshie is based on one of a traditional onion market, where people sell their wares, many picked directly from the dump. There are cattle raised there, and more disturbingly, it’s home to the biggest produce market in West Africa– located literally across the street from Agbogbloshie. Sickness runs rampant, and death to residents comes decades faster than people that live in more affluent parts of Accra.
What You Can Do
When it’s time to throw away your old technology, there probably isn’t a Crolute junk dealer you can cash your old technology into for quarter portions. As a result, you’ll want to consider the following strategies to help minimize e-waste problems that are at work today.
Donate to a Needy Organization
If your technology isn’t quite old, just old to you, there are several charities and other organizations that would take useful technology. For this you can earn a tax deduction for a charitable donation and avoid adding to the e-waste problem. GreatNonprofits.org maintains a list of charities in need of office equipment.
Donate to Goodwill
If you can’t find an organization to take your technology donation, donate the technology to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, which will sell it through their vast network of stores. You can also check out Freecycle, which is a free service that helps find homes for unwanted tech.
Donate to Schools
You can try to donate your old tech to local schools. Many times students can benefit from discarded technology more than professionals can. There is an organization that can help put your old tech in schools called iLoveSchools.com.
Responsibly Recycle It
If you can’t get anyone to take your old technology, many of today’s largest retailers and technology manufacturers are cognizant of the e-waste problem and can suggest reputable recycling services.
With e-waste becoming a major problem home and abroad, it’s crucial that you do your part. Understanding what your options are equally important.
May the Fourth be with you!