FACTS ABOUT eWASTE
E-waste is electronic waste—the afterlife of your phones, laptops, TVs and other consumer electronic devices once they’ve gotten tossed in the trash. We produce a lot of it: 6 million tons in 2010. Improperly disposed of, the lead, mercury and other toxic materials inside e-waste can leak from landfills and threatening groundwater supplies. Worse is what happens if that e-waste is exported overseas to poor countries like Ghana or Nigeria. It’s common for traders to take old computers and phones from the developed world, sell the second-hand products that are still in working condition, and send the rest of the scrap to slums. There are nearly two cell phones in existence for every three people on earth. Despite the slowdown in production caused by the economic downturn, cellphones still have a high turnover rate: We tend to use a phone for only about 18 months, or a staggering 12 months in the U.S. -- long before the five year lifespan the devices have on average.
Click here to see the EPA's Secret Life of a Smartphone graphic
3.5 billion: cellphones in use worldwide, or about half the global population.
4.1 billion: mobile phone subscriptions (some people have multiple network subscriptions). That's about 3.5 times the number of PCs in use around the world
China is the world leader in cellphone ownership, with 695.2 million phones, followed by India at 441.7 million, and the United States at 271 million. (World Factbook)
22.4 million: number of users in the U.S. who now access the mobile Web to retrieve news and information -- double the number a year ago (comScore)
3 billion: active users of text messaging at this moment. Americans, SMS latecomers, average 4 text messages per day
1 trillion: dollars in revenue reached by the global mobile telecom industry in 2008 -- roughly twice the size of both the global advertising and computer software industries.
80%: percentage of teens who carry a wireless device, or 17 million, a 40% increase since 2004
47%: percentage of US teens who say their social life would end or be worsened without their cell phone
57%: teens who credit their mobile device with improving their life. Second only to clothing, teens say, a person's cell phone tells the most about their social status or popularity, outranking jewelry, watches and shoes
On top of the energy and cost associated with extracting the materials that go into a cellphone, the disposal of cellphones often leaves a toxic imprint on the environment. That's because:
• Printed circuit boards contain toxic metals including lead, nickel, and beryllium.
• Liquid crystal displays contain mercury.
• Batteries may contain nickel and cadmium, particularly older ones.
• Plastics may contain brominated flame retardants, that are toxic and persist in the environment. Studies suggest they accumulate in household dust and in the food chain, and they have been detected in some fish.
According to the EPA, cell phones have a shorter life span than any other major consumer electronics: 1.5 to 2.5 years, compared with 3 to 8 years for an LCD monitor, or 3.3 to 4 years for computers.
130 million: amount of cell phones retired in the U.S. per year, over 40 times more than in 1990
65,000 tons: weight of electronic garbage created by cellphones per year
Even though they're trashed en masse, cellphones may be the most valuable form of e-waste. An average phone contains about $1 in precious metals, mostly gold.