Modern electronic devices have a lifespan, which is counted in a number of years. It is seldom that an electronic gadget has a usable lifetime of more than 5 years. For instance, cell phones have a stated lifetime of around 3 years, mainly because by that time you would need to replace the batteries or the display screen. Other accessories have an indefinite lifespan based on the wear and tear of regular use. The problem with these devices is that they are a hazard in the landfill and have to be disposed of in a different manner.
Materials recycling is the most eco-friendly way to dispose of electronic accessories. In this method, the device is disassembled with the aim of metal recovery. The method is expected to be more refined in the coming years, in order to recover rare-earth metals and minerals. Headphones are just one of the most prolific sources of recoverable rare-earth elements due to the magnet in the speakers.
The main idea of a metal recovery system is already in use by Daimler-Benz. The makers of Mercedes Benz recycle a large percentage of their cars and recover them as spare parts. These are mainly plastic parts that can be re-used by other cars of the same model. However, this method of materials recovery may not work with cell phones. For instance, cell phone batteries are not recyclable, or at least, not yet. When a battery loses its charging capacity, it is replaced outright.
Batteries are the most commonly replaced parts on electronics and electronics accessories. A case in point is that a battery can usually only be fully recharged for about 500 times. In actual lifespan, that means about 3 years of daily partial recharging. After that happens, the battery can no longer keep the full charge; instead, it goes lower than 70% of its original charge. Most people would notice this and have the battery replaced.
In terms of internal electronics, the metals used in electronics can be recycled. These include gold and copper. However, the cost of recovering these elements may be too high at the moment. Considering that gold is used as a very thin film on top of contact points for microchips, Otherwise, copper would be used instead. High-end headphones have jacks, which have copper contacts. Copper and gold are highly conductive materials, and in small electronic devices, the slightest edge can yield great performance gains.
Among modern electronic accessories, headphones have the biggest variances in materials used. High-end models use esoteric materials like molybdenum, as well as bamboo and wood. In recent years, the use of wood and bamboo has proven to give great acoustic properties for headphones. On the other hand, there is now a lot of circuitry involved in headphones and headsets. With the growth of active noise cancelling headphones, as well as the best headphones for the hearing impaired, today’s accessories can have their own microchip for digital to analogue conversion, as well as for programming for sound.
Some other accessories which can be hard to recycle include memory cards of all sorts, as well as USB memory sticks. The way USB flash drives are marketed today, these are now as small as they are, and as loaded with electronics as ever before. The first 1TB flash drive is expected by the end of 2017, and the first 2TB should come out shortly thereafter.
The same is true of SD and micro-SD cards, the first 1TB cards should be arriving at the market soon. Recycling these small accessories is not that easy. Most people would not give it a second thought, and throw it along with the non-recyclable trash.
Agencies are hard pressed in trying to find ways to recycle these devices. Materials recovery is not cost effective as yet. However, even as a centre, materials recovery is not about the present, nor the cost, but about the future and what it would mean to the next generations.
Still, the best way to dispose of electronic accessories is to lump them together with the computer, the cellphone, tablet and the laptop. Government agencies should be able to do something about this impending global problem. Indeed, some countries are already doing something about them. It is only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up and try advanced materials recovery.