Where Our Smartphones Go When They Die

If you don't put your old smartphone in your nightstand, where does it go?
Image: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Americans love stuff. Our garages, closets, and spare rooms are full of stuff we think we need but probably don’t. This week Cyber talks to Adam Minter, author of Secondhand, about the end-of-life supply chain for our cell phones, computers, and all the other stuff we keep in our houses. Minter writes about trash, recycling, and where our stuff goes for Bloomberg.

America and the rest of the world is generating an incredible amount of e-waste and that e-waste is driving an economy that many of us never see. “We talk a lot at Motherboard about supply chain. Supply chain attacks, human labor and resource use, shipments all around the world and environmental effects,” says Jason Koebler, editor-in-chief of Motherboard. “But we talk less often about the second supply chain that happens when we get rid of our electronics. Today we’re going inside that end of life supply chain to discuss how our electronics are recycled, repaired, reused, and resold all around the world.”

As far as sustainability goes, Motherboard is hard on Apple and with good reason. But Minter thinks Apple’s effect on the environment is more complicated. “On balance, Apple is making some of the most durable digital products out there,” Minter says. “They support them with software updates longer than most other companies. So, if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your device, the fact that Apple products will last longer and will remain updated longer is a net positive.”

It feels like we live in a world of disposable consumer goods, but Minter points out that consumer demand is changing and that businesses who promise devices with long lifespans are experiencing explosive growth. “We live in a consumer society and we’re not going to be able to completely withdraw from it.”

Also on the pod this week—Jason seeks absolution for an $1,100 purchase, shade is thrown at Marie Kondo, and Emanuel Maiberg makes his first CYBER appearance.