What is Electronics Hoarding, and Why is it Bad for the Environment?

consumer electronics and household electronic appliances

Remember when buying a smartphone meant getting a pair of neatly folded earphones and a brand-new charger in the box? Those were the days. Testing the new earphones was fun, even if you eventually switched back to your Beats or Bluetooth headset. And who doesn’t love getting a clean new charger so you can hide the old embarrassing one in a junk drawer?

While most of us complain about smartphone brands deciding to deny us these ‘essentials’ nowadays, there is a method behind their madness. A recent European study found that people tend to hoard electronics, with at least one broken or unused device for every six devices in their homes.

Why Do We Hoard Electronic Devices? 

Hoarding, in general, is a complex human behaviour that scientists don’t yet completely understand. Of course, parting with things like gifts, souvenirs, and baby clothes can be difficult, but why is it so easy to hoard electronics? To start, they’re usually quite expensive, which can make getting rid of them feel wrong.

The WEEE Forum is an international not-for-profit organisation that provides information and guidance on managing e-waste. In 2022, it surveyed over 8000 European households across six countries to find out what makes getting rid of old electronics so difficult. Here are the top seven reasons (in order) why people hoard electronics:We believe we might use our old electronics again in the future.

  1. We plan to sell or give them away but never get around to it.
  2. Our electronics hold sentimental value.
  3. Our old electronics could have value in the future.
  4. We don’t know how to dispose of broken electronics.
  5. We simply forget they exist in our homes – out of sight, out of mind.
  6. We’re worried about data security.

Why is Hoarding Electronics Bad for the Environment?

Think about the materials that make up a smartphone. You might see plastic, glass, and aluminium on the outside, but what about all the tiny electronic components behind the screen? Our phones contain dozens of rare earth minerals and metals that take back-breaking work to extract from the earth.

You’ll find the following metals in everyday electronic devices:

  • Copper
  • Lithium
  • Cobalt
  • Tungsten
  • Silver
  • Gold

Notice a pattern? They’re all non-renewable resources that will eventually run out. Imagine if we kept cardboard and paper the same way we keep electronics – we’d never throw anything away, nothing would be recycled, and eventually, we’d run out of trees.

By keeping old electronics in your home and out of circulation, the valuable materials they contain eventually go to waste. Hoarding old electronics puts pressure on the mining industry to keep extracting more and more metal from the earth as the demand for shiny new devices increases. Mining can wreak havoc on the environment, damage ecosystems, and harm human health.

What To Do With Your Old Electronic Devices

Putting your preloved electronics to good use means we don’t have to manufacture as many new ones from scratch, which is a win for the environment.

  • Donate. The economy largely runs on the internet, and having electronic devices at our disposal makes accessing it a whole lot easier. Donating a preloved computer to someone in need can help them further their education and build the skills they need to start a fulfilling career. If you’re worried about data security, you can encrypt the hard drive before wiping the machine and doing a factory reset.
  • Refurbish. What happens when a hairdryer, electric mixer, desk lamp, or other small appliance breaks in your home? Most of the time, these devices are relatively inexpensive to replace, which is how we end up with cupboards full of broken steam irons and kitchen scales. The good news is that you can usually fix these items yourself with a little YouTube research. Refurbishing broken electrical devices extends their lifespan; plus, you could even put money back in your pocket by selling the things you fix.
  • Recycle. When auditing your junk drawer, you’re bound to find a bunch of drained batteries and tangled cables that are beyond repair. Do not throw them in the dustbin! Electronics contain metals, mercury, glass, and toxic chemicals that can pollute the environment and kill birds and animals. You can use this map to find e-waste drop-off points in South Africa.

Electronics are not Collectables

Technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds, and it can be easy to take electronics for granted. Instead of letting preloved phones, laptops, and household appliances gather dust, why not let them keep working until they can’t anymore? That way, we get the most out of the precious materials it takes to make them.

If you’re looking for ways to recycle electronics and other e-waste, eWASA can help – please contact us for more information.

[1] https://weee-forum.org/ws_news/of-16-billion-mobile-phones-possessed-worldwide-5-3-billion-will-become-waste-in-2022/

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