For the last several weeks, this blog’s focus has been about rare earth materials and recycling. We have been learning about today’s techniques as to how to deal with recycling electronics with these materials within them. Obviously this recycling craze didn’t happen overnight, it started somewhere. And while I can not give an exact date of when the world knew recycling obsolete electronics would be a good idea (probably sometime in the 1970’s) I can tell you about how on April 14th, 1993 The New York Times was the first major publication to make a report on e-cycling.
An article written by Steve Lohr over 20 years ago gives people like me, a 21 year old graphic design student, an interesting insight of what was happening to the old and unused electronics back then. By 1993 there were millions of computers that were being thrown out. “Consequently, American businesses and individuals are discarding their old mainframes, personal computers and work stations at a rate of more than 10 million a year (Lohr).” Today, more than 5 to 6 times that amount is thrown away, and that’s accounting for computers alone.
By this time the government was realizing that something had to happen, and recycling had to play a huge part in developing new technology. “If the pace of discarding continues, some 150 million computer carcasses will reside in the nation's landfills by the year 2005, according to a Carnegie-Mellon University study. The disposal costs alone for the machines could be $1 billion, ignoring the landfill space required—an acre of land dug to a depth of three and a half miles, room to stack about 15 Empire State Buildings end to end (Lohr).” These days, e-waste is one of the fastest growing municipal waste streams worldwide (CBSNews).
Even though the number of electronics going into recycling centers had gone up, the processes have stayed relatively the same. Workers extract what they can and throw out the rest. In a recycling center in 2014 they will be doing the exact same thing, except the techniques to extract the metals and other components is safer and there’s a lot less to be thrown into the landfill. "The key is designing for the environment instead of trying to cope with environmental problems at the end of the pipeline—disposal, "said Greg Pitts, the environmental project manager for the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (Lohr).
Also by this time in 1993, engineers were trying to find ways to not only cut the amount of materials that go into a computer, but they were trying to save electricity too by introducing the hibernation function that every computer, tablet and smartphone utilize today to save on battery power.
It’s a good thing e-cycling has become such a craze among big companies that make our computers and cell phones. The system is not perfect, but every material that we are able to reuse and keep out of the landfill is a step in the right direction. And since our recycling system is trying to find ways to eliminate waste, we have more opportunities for creators to come up with the next big thing that will do just that. We live in a world that is always changing and evolving, we can only hope that the change is always for the better.
CBSNews. "Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste." Cbsnews.com 6 Nov. 2008. Cbsnews. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/following-the-trail-of-toxic-e-waste/>.Lohr, Steve. "Recycling Answer Sought for Computer Junk." The New York Times 14 Apr. 1993. The New York Times. Web. 5 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/14/business/recycling-answer-sought-for-computer-junk.html>.