In every single household, there’s a forgotten drawer that no one dares to open. A drawer in the kitchen or at the bottom of a shelf in our room. A drawer that is the cemetery of electronic devices. If you open it you’ll find the remains of old laptops, broken earbuds, cellphones dating back to 2007, loose cables that connect to nothing, and chargers that no one can even remember what they belonged to.
Most of us have this drawer not entirely by choice: we don’t exactly decide to dedicate an entire storage to old electronics. We have these designated cemeteries because most of us don’t know how to dispose of them. Do we just throw this old tech in the trash? Doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Then, do we recycle them? And how could we, if we’re not engineers?
According to the Global E-Waste Monitor, 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste (or e-waste for short) was generated worldwide in 2019, and only 17% was recycled. The same source estimates that in only 9 years from now, in 2030, there will be around 74.7 million tonnes generated. For comparison, that’s the weight of 46.7 million cars. The biggest producer of e-waste in Europe is, surprisingly, Norway. However, estimates say that the Nordic country won’t be maintaining their position very long, as the United Kingdom will surpass them as soon as 2024. The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee found that the average UK household hoards around 20 old and unused devices.
What do these producers of e-waste do with all those tonnes? We don’t really see them piling up in these countries, do we? That’s because the waste is either incinerated –releasing dangerous and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere– or shipped overseas to other countries –most commonly developing countries which don’t have adequate health measures– where they can easily contaminate all the necessities: air, food, and water. It’s no secret that e-waste is a massive environmental issue that we can’t just shake away.
So, is holding on to our old tech a good thing for the environment? Co-founder of Spring James Seear explains: “Leaving an unused device in a drawer is as bad as throwing it in the bin. That’s because rather than it being reused by someone else, it’s taken out of circulation and needs to be replaced with something new. As the tech in our homes grows, so does a mountain of electronic waste, which is having a catastrophic impact on the environment.”
Spring is a UK-based eco-conscious tech company that directly tackles the immense issue that is e-waste by giving them another life. Instead of packing up all your old electronics and putting them in a bin, bring them to your closest Spring pod, kiosk-style locations. Their tech experts will evaluate the state of your devices and give you a price for their worth. If you accept it, they’ll pay for your oldies and work on your devices to repair them and give them another use or to pick out the recyclable materials in it for another life; a prime example of the circular economy.
Spring has 400 pods all around the UK (and working towards having 1.000 soon), where anyone can come in at any time to trade their old devices for a sum of money; they accept more than 8 thousand different electronics. The sites have the capacity to recirculate around 91.000 devices annually. Spring’s end goal is to tackle the 1.6 million tonnes of electrical waste the country produces annually. So far, the company has shown incredible numbers: 2.021 kilograms of e-waste has been saved from landfill, 973 tonnes of CO2 have been prevented, and almost 13.000 devices have been either resold or recycled. With new locations under way, Spring believes that they can save 4.400 tonnes more of CO2.
According to researchers from McMaster University in Canada, smartphone emissions have grown by 730% in 10 years, “from 17 megatons of CO2e per year to 125 megatons of CO2e per year”. Spring’s website affirms that if we used our phones an extra year, “we could reduce their CO2 impact by a third. If we did the same with all the phones, laptops, washing machines and vacuum cleaners in Europe, we could save 4 million tonnes of CO2 per year”
From October 12th to the 16th, Spring took over Shoreditch‘s Prince Arthur pub to establish their first “Trade-Inn”. Customers could enter the pub with old devices to give to Spring and in return got their money’s worth and pints of beer for free. This meant that for an entire week, you could pay for your drinks at the Prince Arthur pub with old tech, a well-thought out campaign to get more people motivated to open their terrifying drawers and bring them in for a better life.
Not only does Spring have an amazing initiative to tackle e-waste. They’re also committed to becoming a net-zero tech company and using recyclable materials in their operations: their pods are made locally in the UK from 36% recycled materials, and claim to be working on making them 100% from recycled materials.
Companies like Spring are a breath of fresh air. They are a great example of how tech businesses can lower their carbon footprint while helping consumers become more green. It’s not about using less, it’s about being conscious of how you use.