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  • My recent move unearthed a lot of old electronics that I forgot that I had;

  • an old iPad that won't update anymore, an LG G4 with a

  • removable battery, a tablet from a Verizon promotional dealthis was

  • freeand an iPhone 8 with a very cracked screen.

  • I put a lot of things on OfferUp to give them a second life.

  • I also took some stuff to Best Buy for e-waste recycling.

  • I just couldn't believe how much tech trash I really had, especially

  • things like phones and tablets.

  • It seems like every tech company is trying to sell their product as

  • environmentally responsible.

  • That's why Apple claims its latest iPhone 12 lineup comes without a

  • charging block in the box.

  • Taken all together, the changes we've made for iPhone 12 cut over two

  • million metric tons of carbon emissions annually.

  • But that doesn't stop these companies from coming out with a host of new

  • phones every year, and the old ones end up in the drawer or a closet or a

  • box or worse end up in landfills.

  • In 2019, nearly 153 million smartphones were sold in North America, and in

  • 2018, users were keeping their phones for about two years, but that time

  • period is likely to drop as folks upgrade to 5G-capable phones.

  • We don't have the technology to take a truck full of old iPhones, melt them

  • down, grind them up and make new iPhones out of them.

  • It is flat out physically impossible.

  • No one can do it. Apple can't do it.

  • Samsung can't do it. No one can do it.

  • Many of them are no longer made with screws.

  • They're made with glue.

  • Glue makes things very hard to take apart and recover materials from

  • because it degrades the value of the commodity product itself.

  • So smartphones and tablets are challenging.

  • About 6.9 million metric tons of waste was produced in the U.S.

  • alone in 2019.

  • That's about the same weight as nineteen Empire State Buildings.

  • Of that, only about 15 percent was collected for recycling.

  • And some of those minerals and metals being thrown away with our waste

  • aren't just valuable, they're toxic.

  • All of the arsenic, cadmium, lead, beryllium and other hazardous materials

  • that are contained in electronic waste should be kept out of landfills,

  • should be kept out of rivers and lakes, and also should be kept from being

  • dumped into emerging economies such as China, India or Africa.

  • Creating a phone that stayed relevant for four to five years instead of one

  • to two years could make a huge difference.

  • I'm frustrated with the world of technology journalism.

  • Every review of every product with an integrated battery should say this

  • product will stop working in eighteen months.

  • Until phones are made to last much longer, how can companies like Apple,

  • Google and Samsung fix the e-waste problem, and what can we as consumers

  • do to help?

  • We've created a pretty big mess for ourselves when it comes to e-waste.

  • The world created 53.6 million metric tons of waste in 2019, an average of

  • about 16 pounds per person.

  • That number is estimated to increase almost 40 percent by 2030.

  • And this is waste like old smartphone's has gold, iron, lead, copper and

  • other rare and potentially hazardous materials.

  • In fact, the raw materials in the waste thrown away in 2019 comes to about

  • 57 billion dollars.

  • Less than 18 percent of that, about 10 billion dollars was recycled

  • properly. Many, but not all landfills leach into the ground when they're

  • rained upon. It's that leaching process that eventually degrades our

  • environment, ecosystem, vegetation, animals and gets back into our human

  • population.

  • Just to make one device takes a huge amount of raw materials, and that

  • mining process can be harmful to the environment.

  • It takes over two hundred pounds of raw material to make a phone like

  • this. These are one of the most environmentally destructive things that we

  • make because of all the materials that go into it.

  • Mining often uses large quantities of water, acids, other toxic or

  • costly reagents, and all of that presents an environmental challenge to be

  • able to mine responsibly.

  • Some of those mines can even dig up radioactive waste during the mining

  • process. This is the Mountain Pass Rare Earth mine outside of Las Vegas,

  • and it got shut down in the 1990s because they spilled radioactive waste

  • all over the valley floor outside of Las Vegas.

  • Over 100 companies, including Samsung and Apple, have signed on to the

  • Responsible Business Alliance Code of Conduct, which is a set of social,

  • environmental and ethical industry standards.

  • The problem is these companies keep making devices and we keep buying

  • them. In 2020, Apple released five new iPhones and Samsung released 15 new

  • phones. Apple reportedly sold about 196.2 million iPhones, and Samsung

  • sold about 296 million phones in 2019.

  • All told, an estimated 1.48 billion smartphones were sold worldwide in

  • 2019. What do we do with these devices that whether they're new every two

  • or even obsolete every five, they do seem to become obsolete in a

  • relatively short timeframe.

  • In order to have a sustainable relationship with our technology, we have to

  • find a way to make only the products that we absolutely need and know

  • more. So once you've decided to part ways with your device, you could

  • throw it in a box like I used to do.

  • I don't recommend that.

  • But what if it's just a cracked screen or the battery runs out faster than

  • it used to? It should be easier to fix our phones.

  • That's where the Right to Repair movement comes in.

  • Right to Repair says, hey, if you're going to make a complex product, you

  • need to make parts, tools and information available to consumers.

  • Right? Farmers should have the right to fix their own tractors.

  • Consumers should have the right to fix their own iPhones.

  • Kyle Wiens started the popular repair site iFixit as a way to democratize

  • the process. Well, I was trying to fix my laptop and I couldn't find

  • information anywhere. I had dropped it on the power plug and it was a

  • little bit loose. And I learned that the repair manual had been online.

  • But Apple's lawyers had demanded that it be taken off the internet.

  • And that made me really mad.

  • Like, they have this information that could have made my life simpler and

  • they went out of their way to stop me from knowing how to work on my own

  • machine. Planned Obsolescence is the idea that a company strategically

  • slows down or otherwise makes it harder to use older devices.

  • Apple was just accused of this earlier in 2020.

  • Batteries are a consumable, they're a ware item and every manufacturer that

  • sells a product with a ware item should make replacements available.

  • You would not buy a car if the tires were welded to the car and there was

  • no way to change them.

  • Apple has made some changes over the years to make its phones more

  • repairable, like making some parts modular or using pull tabs instead of

  • glues for easy battery remove.

  • Unfortunately, Apple designs it for themselves to repair and not for

  • consumers to repair.

  • So they'll do things like put a proprietary screw on the bottom of the

  • phone that limits your access to it.

  • Luckily, companies like iFixit offer tools, guides and replacement parts

  • for phones, although Apple is not a huge fan of that.

  • There are certain battery and screen functions that only work if you get

  • your battery and screen replaced with Apple products by Apple certified

  • repair people. Many companies claim they want to repair products in-house

  • to maintain quality, and even Apple says it actually loses money in

  • repairs. Well, some of the things that Apple does is really compelling.

  • They're pushing their suppliers to use renewable energy is hugely

  • important. Most of the energy that goes into making this is fossil fuels

  • in China. It's mostly coal power making our phone.

  • But there are a lot of other things that Apple says, like they'll brag

  • about how much recycled material that they collect, that really is a red

  • herring. Apple has expanded its independent repair provider program to 140

  • businesses and 700 new locations, but it still believes that Apple

  • training is required for safe repairs.

  • As for Samsung, the world's second largest smartphone manufacturer, after

  • Huawei, its phones get even lower repairability scores than Apple from

  • iFixit's analysis.

  • We need to trust individuals to have some agency and not infantilize them

  • and say, oh, you could never turn a screwdriver.

  • I think that's just insulting.

  • And it might take federal regulation to truly force all involved to help

  • fix the problem.

  • Starting in January, you're going to see state legislatures across the

  • country from Massachusetts to California evaluating this issue.

  • And so if you're if you're interested, if you're passionate about it,

  • reach out to your legislator and tell them you support Right to Repair and

  • you'd like them to co-sponsor the bill.

  • If you can't fix your phone or donate it to someone who needs it, recycling

  • is a great option.

  • There were recyclers across the globe that process e-waste; GEEP in

  • Canada, Umicore in Belgium, and ERI, which processes an estimated five

  • percent of all e-waste recycled in the United States.

  • We got in it before there was an iPhone, before there was an iPad, before

  • Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize or an Academy Award for Inconvenient

  • Truth. In a nutshell, ERI receives electronic devices primarily from

  • consumers, businesses and original electronic manufacturers, or OEMs.

  • Consumers drop off their electronics at participating retail stores like

  • Best Buy and Staples, nonprofits like Salvation Army or at their local

  • solid waste authority.

  • Once the devices received, all of the data is destroyed, items are tested

  • for functionality, repaired, refurbished or processed into commodities

  • like steel, plastic, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, palladium and lead.

  • All of these materials that come out of ERI's facilities go to beneficial

  • reuse, like being made into new products and none go into landfills.

  • And Shegerian says they make a good business from this process.

  • We were profitable from the day we started.

  • 17 years later we're still profitable.

  • And there's a lot of room for growth.

  • North America created 7.7 million metric tons of waste in 2019, and only

  • 15 percent of that waste was documented to be collected and properly

  • recycled. All the materials that come out of it, the steel, the plastic,

  • the aluminum, the copper, the gold, the silver, the palladium, the lead is

  • all recyclable stuff, including the glass.

  • I mean, it all can go back for beneficial reuse.

  • None of this stuff ever had to go to landfill.

  • But this type of recycling isn't an option for every component in our

  • phones. Lithium ion batteries have to go through a special recycling

  • process and can be a fire hazard for recyclers.

  • Rare earth elements and magnets like the neodymium in our phone speakers

  • are harder to recycle, too, and many processes require toxic chemicals and

  • acids to separate materials.

  • If you are going to make one of rare earth elements, you should be ready to

  • produce almost 1.6 million gallons of waste gas that

  • contains hydrochloric acid.

  • And then you also think about the portion of that acid that goes into the

  • river and the sewage system, which was estimated to be near 53,000 gallons

  • for only one metric ton.

  • One option is to dismantle.

  • So which means you take this cellphone or the tablet and dismantle it and

  • then bring out the magnets.

  • But we all can agree that that's not efficient.

  • Ikenna Nlebedim's team has been working on a process to separate rare earth

  • materials from e-waste, like hard disk drives, electric motors and old

  • cell phones without the use of mineral acids or other environmentally

  • destructive chemicals that are used in other separation methods.

  • The process basically dissolves the rare earth containing materials in the

  • e-waste and leaves the rest to be collected and further recycled.

  • The recovered materials are more than 99 percent pure, and this process

  • can even recover cobalt when present, which isn't in demand element that

  • has been criticized for the way it's mined and sold.

  • The Ames Lab, where this process was developed, says it's ready to put it

  • into action and it has the support of the U.S.

  • Department of Energy to do so.

  • One thing about the process is that it works.

  • So if you give me a haptics drive today, I can give you the rare earth

  • content tomorrow or next or maybe in a week.

  • So what steps are being taken to minimize all of this e-waste?

  • When we got in the business approximately 17 or so years ago, there wasn't

  • a great call from the OEMs back then that we were involved with for our

  • plastics and metals to go back to them.

  • But now in 2020, the demand is huge.

  • Apple has dropped some recyclers who have unsustainable practices and

  • created robots to help disassemble and recycle about 1.2 million old

  • iPhones a year. For context, Apple reported 900 million active iPhones

  • worldwide at the end of 2018.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup uses 100 percent recycled rare earth materials and

  • its magnets, and the company's ultimate goal is to create a 100 percent

  • recycled iPhone.

  • They come in, they bring their engineers, they see our difficulties.

  • We're very unvarnished with them in terms of giving them feedback because

  • they want it. And the engineers that are developing new products that are

  • three to five years out are assessing what's problematic now, and they're

  • trying to work around that.

  • Recyclers and repairers say we can keep our phones out of landfills by

  • reducing our consumption, using recyclers like ERI and making sure new

  • processes like those from the Ames Lab get into the pipeline.

  • Even those flammable lithium ion batteries can find a new life with the

  • proper procedures.

  • Across the board, we need to see a commitment from these companies to

  • support their customers.

  • The customer centric thing to do is to support the product through its

  • entire lifecycle, not just during the warranty period.

  • And both Apple and Samsung are falling short on that.

  • I believe we're getting there.

  • I see the evolution moving there.

  • We're not there yet. I haven't seen yet myself a hundred percent cellphone

  • made out of recycled material.

  • Same with a tablet or even a printer yet.

  • But I think they're moving there.

  • Recycling is a great option, but there's so much more that needs to be done

  • by the manufacturers to stop the e-waste problem.

  • Phones aren't getting that much better anymore.

  • It used to be back when you went from the 3 to the 4, it was a huge