Consumer electronics recycling is a growing business with serious environmental impact

Between smartphones, computers, televisions, video game systems, and other gadgets, consumers purchase and eventually discard numerous devices each year. As technology plays a greater and greater role in everyday life, figuring out how to properly manage e-waste is becoming big business – potentially worth $40 billion in the next few years – and it’s also critical to the health of the environment and ecosystem.

Many electronics not only contain glass, metal, and plastic that can be recycled, but they often have lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and other heavy metals that are hazardous to the environment and humans. Properly processing these metals and toxic chemicals is critical to prevent them from polluting water sources and the environment at large. It’s also an area that’s likely to lead to further investment and job creation.

Amazon, for example, recently invested in a battery recycling firm that was founded by a former Tesla executive. Electric vehicle batteries and other lithium-ion batteries are becoming a key component in e-waste management. Amazon’s investment into Redwood Materials (which had already received $40 million in funding earlier in 2020) comes as part of the company’s $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund.  

It took some time for the average person to become accustomed to recycling paper, plastic, and glass as they put their garbage cans out for pickup. There will likely be a similar adjustment period for people with their consumer electronics. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, about one third of Millennials and Gen Z individuals consider themselves highly environmentally conscious. Gen X is slightly less environmentally conscious, but attitudes appear to be shifting with younger people.