As the world tries to wean itself off plastics, which clog everything from the gills of fish to river mouths and beaches, there has been a lot made of how and where disused products are disposed of. Computers, phones and tablets are far from exempt from this scrutiny, with many old electronics ending up in places their previous users would no-doubt rather they didn’t. Read on to see where your everyday appliances and devices go to rest in peace – or rather, pieces.
E-Dumps Around the World
When it comes to electronic waste materials, most of the western world tends not to dirty its own back yard, preferring to take its trash overseas. The main countries that attract this waste are India, China and Ghana. In Delhi, there are entire districts dedicated to re-purposing and stripping electrical goods, with men and women tasked with picking through post-apocalyptic landscapes. In China, a lot of the work is at least done indoors, with workshops packed to the gunnels with every piece of electronic hardware known to man.
Poker Chips Go Swimming with the Fishes… See
Dumping unwanted hardware in out-of-sight-out-of-mind locations also used to regularly happen in Las Vegas, where casinos would ditch defunct poker chips at the bottom of Lake Mead or bury them in the concrete foundations of new buildings. However, since 1987, when computer technology was inserted into the chips, casinos were dictated to by law that they had to properly arrange the destruction of their chips when they expired, meaning they are now crushed into non-existence, their stories living on only in the memories of those who won and lost them at the tables. This new practice also puts pay to poker chip hoarders, who had made a habit of stashing piles of chips when they were as valuable as cash, only for them to lose their value the instant the law changed.
The Space Graveyard
Yes, that’s right, there’s a very special place where the big daddies of electronic waste (satellites) go to see out their final days. However, you won’t be able to go and visit the site, because this particular graveyard lies on the ocean floor, in the one spot on the planet furthest from the land. It’s 1,500 miles from terra firma to be exact, so the space vehicles can be landed safely away from towns and cities. It’s known by NASA officials as Point Nemo, which translated from Latin means “no one”.
How Does Electronics Recycling Work?
It is predicted that the total value of the entire planet’s e-waste stands at $55 billion, with so many substances and materials that are used in e-products being reusable. Unfortunately, only a small amount of that same e-waste is in fact recycled every year. There are, however, some companies beginning to get wise to this neglected revenue stream, with people at Dell launching what they call “Closed-loop recycling”, which in theory means that they aim to reuse 100% of every defunct computer that is handed back to them by their customers. The company has even gone so far as to partner with fashion brands to create clothing and jewellery made entirely from recycled materials taken from their computer dumps.
Where Will the E-Graveyards of the Future be?
The answer to this question is two-fold. Firstly, all electronics manufacturers need to work harder to create products that use fewer materials that require recycling in the first place, or that are at least designed to be easily recycled. As communities become more and more concerned about the environment this is an issue that is going away, with stricter regulations will force companies to comply in the near future.
That said, there will always be some materials that cannot be reused or re-purposed. Some more dubious ideas about how to deal with them have ranged from firing them into space, to even flying them into the sun. The world awaits more serious suggestions from scientists and companies looking to tap into what is an ever-growing problem and business opportunity.