In a newly released documentary, Silicon Mountain: Reducing E-Waste One Refurbished Laptop at a Time, recyclers, activists and government officials come together to speak about problems with electronics scrap.
The short film, created by The Vested Group, Plano, Texas, was made to help electronics users realize the value in their items.
Joel Patterson, founder of The Vested Group, and his wife Hillary are co-executive producers of the film. Patterson says he became more interested in the electronics sector of the recycling industry through his business. The Vested Group uses NetSuite, cloud software, to help companies manage their businesses.
Back in 2013, he worked with an information technology asset disposition (ITAD) client and realized that electronics recyclers needed more specific software to make their businesses run more smoothly because they are demanufacturing items, not manufacturing items.
That unique aspect to the electronics recycling industry pushed The Vested Group to create this film, hoping that awareness would inspire consumers to be more conscious with their items.
“Every time we talked to somebody about it, or shown them trailers of it, most people were like, ‘Wow, I had no idea, I’ve got 10 of these things sitting in my drawer at home,’” Patterson says.
It was a long process to get to this point, but Patterson says it was worth it to help inform more people about what they can do with their items to benefit the planet.
“You take an iPhone, maybe you do want a new one every year, but you take that phone and somebody else can maybe get four, five years of life out of it,” he adds.
Throughout the film, there are visuals from inside electronics recycling facilities as well as landfills. As Patterson says, “there’s a lot of people who don’t realize when you throw a laptop or smartphone in the garbage, it’s hazardous waste.”
In the film, Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit says, “AirPods are one of the most evil products ever created.” He says that because there are three battery components within each set. One in the charging case and one in each AirPod. Those batteries can cause major damage during the recycling process that many users aren’t aware of.
“Every single person has multiple devices and every single person has a need to recycle those devices,” Sunnking’s Adam Shine says in the film. “Technology is changing constantly.”
Wiens adds that many consumers just replace an item when the battery slows, although many would like to repair them. However, some companies, like Apple, don’t sell replacement parts. That doesn’t stop some from trying though. In 2018, 10 million people accessed iFixit’s guides to help consumers repair their own devices.
There’s also a fear about data as many users are worried their information could be recovered or released if their electronics aren’t destroyed. However, with measures in place to safely erase that data, electronics recyclers still hurt for inventory.
“Their bottleneck, in most of these businesses, isn’t selling the stuff, it’s what comes in the door,” Patterson says. “The problem is finding enough supply to be able to feed their process.”
According to the EPA, Americans throw away 400,000 smartphones every single day and the UN says only about 20 percent of e-waste is formally recycled.
Patterson says consumers can’t be totally at fault for that because electronics recycling isn’t as widely talked about other recyclable items. “I just don’t think that people know, but it’s exciting to help educate them. I think if you look at plastics and other recyclables, there is a path for this. It’s just about getting the word out there and letting people know what they can do about it.”