Every gadget lover should read this New York Times Sunday magazine article titled "The Afterlife of Cellphones", but most won't. It outlines the evolving solutions to a problem that will only grow with time. Here're some excerpts:
"Americans threw out just shy of three million tons of household electronics in 2006. This so-called e-waste is the fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream and, depending on your outlook, either an enormous problem or a bonanza..."
"The Belgian company Umicore is in the business of reclaiming those materials. It extracts 17 metals from our unwanted televisions, computers and cellphones and from more ominous-sounding industrial byproducts like drosses and anode slimes...
"Umicore has roots in actual mining. In the late 1800s, during the reign of King Leopold II, the firm mined copper in the African Congo and shipped it to a riverside smelter near Antwerp. Today the same property houses a sprawling, state-of-the-art $2 billion smelter and refinery. Here, metals are recovered and processed.
Then they are sold, sometimes to Asia, where they are used to manufacture brand-new electronics. It’s a reshuffling of the colonial arrangement: an abundant resource is sent from richer countries to poorer ones, made into goods, then sent back. That resource is our garbage."
The article goes on to list other such private market initiatives, both large and small.
What's remarkable about this whole e-waste recycling phenomena is that much of it has been driven by the free markets, with relatively low government intervention. No question, growing government regulations on e-waste recycling will be an inevitable byproduct of our global gadget consumption.
But it's good to see private market solutions that create win-win scenarios around a growing problem.