As tech companies upgrade their electronic products every year, there is a surprising environmental cost with a fresh mountain of obsolete gadgets come into recycling facilities and junkyards every year. These wastes are called electronic waste, which comprises of discarded outdated devices like smartphones, cameras, laptops, and many more.

Every day looks like a Pixar movie in a recycling facility, with doomed electronics riding a conveyor belt into a machine that shreds them into pieces, according to Time magazine.

What's worse is that the production of electronics generates the bulk of the world's waste: from resource extraction to manufacturing, transportation, and electricity production.

Producing them involves hazardous chemicals, greenhouse gases, and water drainage that are mostly invisible to the average consumer. 

The invisible waste garnered during the production of electronics contributes to the world's fastest-growing trash-stream that if released to the environment could create serious problems for all living things.

Production of Electronics

The production of a single smartphone comprises up to 62 different metals, such as gold, silver, and platinum that needs to be mined in Asia, Africa, and Australia.

According to a study by Avfall Sverige, a Swedish waste management and recycling association, the invisible waste generated for a single smartphone and a 3-kilogram laptop could reach about 86 and 1,200 kilograms, respectively, which outweighs the production of one kilogram of beef and a pair of cotton trousers.

"That [figure] includes stones, gravel, tailings, and slag," said Anna Carin Gripwall, co-author of the study. "It's also the fuel and electricity used - but that is a very small amount compared to the mining waste."

This makes the production of electronics a dirty enterprise. It involves mining, which also involves cutting, drilling, blasting, transportation, and processing involved metals that contain harmful dust that can get into the water systems.

The toxic components used in separating the ore could contaminated groundwater, which leach into valleys and streams that damage the soil, plants, animals, and threaten the health of humans.

But experts said that mining is not entirely bad for the environment. It is just a matter of proper management, so it does not damage the environment. Mining companies should find ways that these toxic chemicals do not enter the groundwater supply, and provide their workers with the proper protective equipment so they do not inhale the volatile organics.

Saleem Ali, professor of energy and environment at the University of Delaware, said that an important part of green mining is using more renewable resources in the production of electronic devices.

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Limited Way of Recycling Electronics

After all the environmental costs incurred during the production of electronics, it does not end there because every year, a newer and better version of smartphones, laptops, and tablets are released in the market. That also means that a new pile of obsolete gadgets go into recycling facilities or junkyards.

Currently, only around 17.4% is formally collected and recycled from the world's electronic devices. But even when 100% of electronics are recycled, it will still do nothing with the waste arising in manufacturing them. The lack of electronic waste recycling highlights even further that problem.

"Your cell phone might become obsolete in just a couple of years... That makes reuse and remanufacture almost impossible," said mechanical engineering professor Fu Zhao, professor of Purdue University. "The tech companies have to make money... But at the same time, that has consequences for the environment."

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Check out more news and information on Electronic Waste at Science Times.