Think about the Christmas gifts you have in store this year. What did you buy for family and friends? What are you hoping to receive? Chances are high that at least one of those items is some kind of electronic device. It has become a common practice to upgrade our electronics when newer models come out, even when our current models are still functioning and usable. What doesn’t get a lot of thought is where those old electronics will go when they are replaced. It seems we aren’t the only ones who have that problem, since device manufacturers themselves seem to be thinking the same way.

41.5 million tons of electronic waste (or e-waste) was generated back in 2011, and that number is expected to increase to 93.5 million by the end of 2016. Currently, 70 to 80 percent of all those gadgets are going straight to landfills. That is certainly not good news for the environment.

E-waste recycling

E-waste recycling

Sure, companies are trying to launch “green” initiatives. There might be a phone with less packaging, or a computer that uses less energy to charge up. But how much do those things really matter when everything is just being thrown out after a year or two? It all adds up to a tremendous amount of wasted resources.

In the past, computers and other electronics were easy to disassemble. You could replace broken parts, change out the batteries, add more memory, and make needed repairs to extend their operating life. Moving into the mid-2000s, things started to change. Apple came out with the ultra thin and light Macbook Air, and the industry enthusiastically followed with a collection of devices that were incredibly compact. With that compactness, comes a difficulty of getting into the inner-workings to make any changes or repairs. If something happens to your device, sometimes it becomes too much trouble to fix, and it’s just easier to toss it and go out to buy the newer, “better” model.

With this also came the expansion of the mobile industry. There were smaller phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Our culture became one that frequently abandoned its devices without a second thought, thus resulting in piles of e-waste. It became a problem, not only because people weren’t properly disposing of and recycling their old devices properly, but because many of these devices were becoming next to impossible to recycle at all.

E-waste in an alley

E-waste in an alley

Electronic devices are full of a variety of chemicals that are harmful, including mercury, lead, cadmium, phosphorous, beryllium, and arsenic. When electronics are disposed of in a landfill, those harmful chemicals can eventually seep out and make their way into the ground beneath. Once in the soil, they can easily contaminate the water supply. That is why properly disposing of  e-waste is so important, and why the number of recycling programs offered by device manufacturers and retailers are so vitally important.

But properly disposing of our devices is only part of the problem. Manufacturers also play a vital part in making sure our landfills don’t end up overloaded with e-waste. And in the end, its really a problem of design. One that manufacturers could easily step up and fix.