In India, the average cell phone is used for just under two years. Users may be holding out for up to two years but, it is estimated that around 40% of Indians want to upgrade within a mere year of purchasing. At times, it may feel like you are falling behind the curve if you don’t update immediately to the latest smartphone with a slightly better camera. However, the truth is that by discarding your old phone you are doing as much harm to the environment as you are to your wallet.
Following closely behind China, India ranks as the 2nd fastest growing telecom market in the world. While this rapid digitization does wonders for the economy, it has also been successful in perpetuating a culture of wastefulness. Industries like fashion and electronics see companies work tirelessly at a rapid pace to manufacture new products to meet the demand for constant newness that they have created.
When it comes to ditching their obsolete devices, people generally resort to one of two options. More often than not, phones reach landfills where they end up releasing dangerous toxins into the air we breathe, the soil we live on and the water we drink. While the long-term impact is on society at large, especially on health, social degradation causes severe damage as well. The greener alternative, recycling, may seem like the obvious choice, but after you recycle your phone and forget about it, the truth is that you don’t know what is happening once it is out of your sight.
Laws to manage e-waste have been in place since 2011, stating that only authorized recyclers may collect and dismantle e-waste. However, in India, only 5% of e-waste gets properly recycled, leaving the remaining 95% to be improperly “recycled” crudely and illegally by waste pickers. Even though there are a total of 178 registered e-waste recyclers in the country, many of them aren’t recycling at all. Instead, this waste is being stored in hazardous conditions and others can’t handle the amount of waste coming in, according to a report by the Union Environment ministry. Data published by the United Nations University in the Global E-waste Monitor claims that India produces more than 2 million tons of e-waste a year. Combined with the additional waste imported from other countries, India continues to garner a stockpile of e-waste, making the recycling efforts of the country imperative.
The issue of waste and our environmental footprint extends way beyond electronics to encompass all material things. Everything from the clothes we wear to the shampoo we use has an environmental impact. And until companies can find better ways to recycle and reuse old materials, re-selling and refurbishing our old products is one of the most sustainable options we can resort to.
By extending a product’s life cycle through reusing it, we can ensure that we reduce its environmental impact. We choose to do this by continuing to use the product, handing it down to a sibling or selling it online. But the result will be the same: the overexploited natural resources that would have been used in the process of creating new products will be saved.
Research led by the Waste and Resources Action Program shows that “extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5 to 10 percent reduction in each [item’s] carbon, water and waste footprints.”
The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” reigns true for the secondhand market. When you are no longer actively using an item, you can choose to sell it on second-hand platforms like Quikr, OLX, eBay, some of whom refurbish the item for the next user. By providing a platform for people to reap a return on their investments and purchase lightly used products for a fraction of the retail price, such companies are revolutionizing the way the modern shopper navigates the retail world. In effect, portals provide a convenient and environmentally-friendly alternative to buying new products. This is the easiest & the best way to reduce e-waste in the world other than to stop buying such devices.
Buying used or vintage is just as trendy as it is sustainable. As customers are becoming more environmentally aware, secondhand shopping has become increasingly popular, especially among millennials who are turning to vintage stores and the internet to browse pre-loved items such as electronics and appliances, furniture, or any other products for household/personal purposes. A cheaper alternative to traditional stores, buying from any number of secondhand vendors provides a more rewarding experience. One that will help you feel good, guilt-free!
Ultimately, if a sustainable lifestyle is the end goal, the solution may not be finding eco-friendly ways to shop or perfecting waste management processes. Instead, conscious consumption may be the answer. The reality is that the 21st century is fueled by overconsumption and at this rate, the Earth will not be able to sustain our modern lifestyle. So next time, you are tempted to upgrade your perfectly healthy smartphone just ask yourself, “is it really necessary?”
By Sriram Kuchimanchi, Founder & CEO of Smarter Dharma and an ardent propagator of concepts like sustainability and reusing for platforms like Quikr