People need to think twice before upgrading to the latest technology and contributing to e-waste.

The release of the iPhone 12 on Oct. 23 brings consumers to the market looking to upgrade their phones to the next best thing. However, the problem of electronic waste, or e-waste, isn’t as known despite the threat it has on the environment. Although buying the latest gadget may initially be a good decision, in the long run, the constant purchasing of technology will affect the health of our planet.

E-waste is the term used for electronics that’ve been discarded. In the U.S., most e-waste is shipped to developing countries, directly harming the environment and health of the people there. Open-air burning and acid baths are commonly used to recover materials from electronics, exposing the workers to unhealthy substances and potentially leading to cancer, miscarriages and brain damage.

E-waste is also prevalent in the U.S., as landfills are filled with old electronics. According to an EPA report, materials in these landfills account for 70 percent of hazardous materials. Furthermore, when legislation is introduced, such as the Secure E-Waste and Recycling Act (SEERA), it’s difficult for bills to get through Congress. SEERA has been in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs since 2019. 

In the commercial district Agbogbloshie, Ghana, most electronic waste is burned or doused in acid, seriously damaging the environment with toxic emissions in the air. Unfortunately, the problem is continuing to grow, and it was predicted that by 2030, the levels of e-waste will double those from 2014. Because people globally keep on buying electronics, the numbers will continue to increase and add to the problem of climate change.

One highlighted feature of the iPhone 12 is its has 5G speed, making the iPhone faster than before. The next generation of 5G will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions and threatens to increase the amount of e-waste, as most of the e-waste from the U.S. isn’t recycled. 

On the individual level, there are solutions that help reduce the number of e-waste. The next time you find a problem with your smartphone, consider checking if it can be repaired instead of buying a new one. Additionally, before throwing away your old device, donate it to schools, charities or non-profit organizations that can find a use for the product. 

In the Harrisonburg area, there are a few options for recycling old devices, including ecoATM and Recycle Management LLC. The company ecoATM helps reduce e-waste by allowing electronic owners to sell their old devices for cash on the spot. Recycle Management LLC is located on Main Street and also gives cash for old tech products. 

Teaching about e-waste in high schools is a way that the community can create a greater impact on stopping the issue. E-waste relates to many different careers, and the future generation can learn earlier about the harmfulness of e-waste and how they can regard the problem in different fields. There are also many resources online, including lesson plans, for teachers to use when educating their students about the topic. 

As the effects of climate change grow more and more serious, it’s our responsibility to help the planet and prevent issues such as e-waste. As the 5G revolution begins, it’s important to remember to recycle old smartphones and understand that a difference can be made at the individual level. 

Julia Cheng is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Julia at chengjm@dukes.jmu.edu.