By 2021, humans will have contributed more than 52 million metric tons of e-waste because of the addition of semiconductors and the decreased lifespan of IoT devices, according to IEEE Spectrum.
Smaller, more consumer-centric IoT devices including fitness trackers and other wearables are intentionally designed to be replaced within a year's time when the batteries begin to die, according to the report.
Few companies consider recycling when designing and choosing materials for a device. But some companies, such as Dell and Spire, have recycling programs in place. Dell's computers and servers have about 3,000 kilograms of gold and the company uses recycling programs to help recover some of the metal.
Upgraded models of devices flood the market, luring consumers into buying more powerful models and adding to the mounting pile of e-waste.
The use of specialized, nonconforming parts for standard repairs contributes to the shortened lifespan of devices and, in turn, e-waste.
Some companies are doing better than others controlling e-waste. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Samsung score the lowest in terms of resource consumption, which partially entails some sort of recyclability designed into products. Dell was ranked highly for managing resource consumption alongside HP, Apple and Lenovo.
Still, about 70% of batteries in current tablets, smartphones and laptops are made with batteries that are "impossible or difficult" to replace, with expected disposal within a year. Dell, HP and Fairphone were the only tech companies within the Greenpeace assessment of 40 devices that provide customers with the tools necessary to conduct their own repairs.
E-waste contributes to more than just environmental hazards. About 11% of disposed hard drives still hold company data, potentially exposing it to anyone who comes across the e-waste.
Tech refresh cycles are inevitable after four or five years, and while subscription programs won't necessarily help relieve e-waste, it could help companies to properly dispose of devices with sensitive information. Microsoft and Google both have hardware subscription models that enable device upgrades very 18 months.
Though both companies perform poorly in terms of resource consumption, such subscription models could allow them to recycle parts beyond what users could do.