After months of anticipation, Apple finally released the iPhone 5 to the tech-hungry masses. Reports indicate that millions of phones sold within mere hours of the release, leaving countless consumers to suffer with their perfectly functional and almost brand-new iPhone 4′s until Apple’s Chinese factories can churn out some more.
Let’s forget about the obscene amount of money this is putting in Apple executives’ pockets. Some say that the iPhone 5 craze is good for other parts of the economy as well. Just think about the e-waste recycling industry, they say, all those “obsolete” iPhone 4′s will be a windfall for companies that specialize in smartphone buyback. But is a sudden mountain of new e-waste the kind of boost we want?
Horace Dediu, an independent analyst at Asymco, estimated that Apple’s latest smartphone could sell a total of 220,000 per day for a total of more than 6 million units around the globe on launch weekend alone. Wracked with guilt about the fact that they paid hundreds to upgrade to the last iPhone 4 a year ago, many consumers are likely to seek out phone recycling companies like Gazelle or Global Cell Phone Buyers to recoup at least a portion of their investment.
Yes, recycling your phone is better than leaving it in a drawer or dumping it in the trash. Here’s the problem though–not all e-waste recyclers are created equal, and even fewer actually have the best interests of the planet in mind. A frighteningly large portion of e-waste recyclers simply toss all those beloved phones into a shipping container and auction them off to poorer countries with no environmental or worker safety regulations.
What eventually trickles down to those villages is a mountain of burning, toxic waste and unsafe conditions. So yes, the iPhone 5′s release is likely to result in a glut of unneeded phones, and yes, many of those phones will be recycled, but at what cost? Rather than pacifying our consumption with the idea that it helps the recycling industry, let’s look at it for what it is–another unnecessary purchase that results in corporate profit and hazardous waste.