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Devices worth millions discarded by Britons each year

Posting in Energy

Tonnes of gadgets are discarded every year - but are we missing out on some extra cash by being too lazy to recycle?

The problem with gadgets is how quickly they can become obsolete. The laptop you bought last year decides to go in to early, blue-screen death throes -- and it's cheaper to purchase a new one. The next iPhone model hits the shelves, and you really need to upgrade your MP3 player.

The models planned for next year will be far superior to what you currently own -- so your items will either be stored away, thrown, or passed along to someone else. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2010, Americans owned 2.4 million tons of electronics they didn't want or need. This number has no doubt risen.

According to The Independent, Britons are throwing away more than 17 million devices each year, with a total value of £762 million ($1,205,000,000 USD). Without realizing their worth, damage to the environment or simply due to not being inclined to trade-in or recycle, these items are simply sent to ever-increasing landfills.

According to mobile phone operator O2, approximately one in three adults sends at least one electronic item to a landfill each year, which would fetch an average of £43.54 ($69) if the item instead was taken to a recycling center. This sounds rather far-fetched in terms of customer profit, however, it would take little more effort on our part to exchange old gadgets rather than send them to a landfill.

According to the Basel Action Network, an environmental justice group based in the U.S.:

"E-waste encompasses a broad and growing range of electronic devices, ranging from large household devices such as refrigerators, air conditioners, cell phones, personal stereos, and consumer electronics to computers, which have been discarded by their users".

Electronic items like these all share something in common -- toxic elements such as lead and cadmium which can be responsible for irrevocable damage to the environment. The number of these chemicals finding themselves within our environment is steadily on the rise, as consumerism and waste increase across the West.

Not only is it wasteful, but old electronics often contain materials that are rapidly becoming short supply -- and companies are willing to pay for discarded gadgets to 'recycle' these properties. 'Trade-in' schemes are now common practice among technology and electronics companies, but perhaps consumers are not taking enough advantage of the opportunity.

Last month, it was discovered that Britain exports over 15 million tonnes of waste accumulated through industrial practices and exports it elsewhere -- as there are no sufficient facilities to recycle it. These exports make up a sixth of the UK's total exports in terms of volume. It has been suggested that Britain will exhaust all its remaining landfill space by 2018.

Image credit: Brett Taylor

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure