I can’t wait for a sequel to “Wall-E,” the Pixar film in which a robot is tasked with making Earth inhabitable long after humans abandoned the planet in favor of a spaceship. The film was just the right amount of cute, smart, and reflective of modern society without being too patronizing.
There is one thing I would like to see changed, however: How about having the titular robot pick up tons and tons of discarded smartphones in addition to the mishmash of metals he already works with? That would be a better reflection of what could happen now that mobile devices are so popular.
Consider this report from Agence France-Presse. It claims that a record amount of electronic waste was discarded in 2014, with 41.8 million tonnes of the stuff being tossed. While most of that comes from heavy appliances (fridges, washing machines, etc.) a fair portion comes from phones.
What’s particularly damning is that many of these devices have valuable components — including 300 tonnes of gold — that could have been recycled. Instead, they will have to be mined again, often by people who are paid little or nothing to do the back-breaking labor required to get the materials.
Wall-E would be disappointed.
This problem is only going to continue to get worse. More people are using smartphones than ever before, and despite slowed growth in established markets like the United States, the numbers are only going to continue rising. And as more smartphones are bought, more will inevitably be thrown away.
There are many signs phones will continue to grow in popularity. Apple says the iPhone 6s got more pre-orders than the iPhone 6 that arrived last year. More companies are making cheap-but-good devices to reach emerging markets. Google is hoping to get everyone a phone with Android One.
All this makes it easy to believe Andreessen Horowitz analyst Benedict Evans when he says that 80 percent of the world’s adult population will own smartphones by 2020. These trends will end with the Earth being covered in slabs of glass and aluminum and plastic and god-knows-what-else.
This might not be as much of a problem if more people would fix their devices instead of demanding new ones. Hell, even as far back as 2010 people were swapping out mobile devices instead of paying to have a broken component fixed. Even if they sent in the old device to get the replacement, that’s still a lot of unnecessary effort and wasted resources.
Of course, that’s probably the twist you expected from a blog hosted by a company devoted to repairing electronics. But one of the things that excites me most about this blog is the editorial independence; I’m not required to write anything, nor do I have to pimp the brand. (Notice that I haven’t mentioned the name of the company in this piece.)
I’m not writing this for any reason other than to wonder at how the growing smartphone market could affect the Earth. Don’t consider recycling or repairing a device instead of throwing it away because of the company hosting this blog. Do it so the robot tasked with saving the planet doesn’t have to pluck shards of broken glass out of his tracks.
Here’s to you, Wall-E.