Figure 1: Cellphone Life Cycle (Source: Online Marketing Trends)

Figure 2: Volume of electronics manufactured per year in millions of units (Source: Gartner and Forrester Research)


Cell phone upgrades

Cell phone companies typically allow free or very inexpensive upgrades every two years. Your cell phone carrier subsidizes the cost of the phone purchase if you sign a two year contract. This leads people to stop using working cell phones simply because there is something newer, possibly with more features. The “dead cell phone” drawer, with discarded phones, PDAs, and MP3 players, and a tangle of chargers and cords, is a common occurrence in homes.


Hardware failures

A recent report from Square Trade (an electronics warranty service company) shows that 24% laptops will fail in the first three years due to hardware malfunctions.


New Technology – Digital TV Conversion and HDTV

In 2009, broadcasters switched from analog to digital TV signal. Millions of Americans tossed out perfectly good, working analong TVs either because they don’t want to hassle with using a converter box on their old TV, or they want to view TV using the HDTV technology. TV company advertising boldly tells us we NEED to upgrade to HDTV. Sharp had an ad campaign in 2009 whose slogan is “Change your TV, change you life.” They even used the website of


Disposable printers

Did your last computer come with a “free” printer? Cheap consumer-grade printers have proliferated substantially over the last few years. They are sometimes cheaper than the toner. They don’t last long, and when they break, you’d never even think of getting it fixed (if you could find someone who would do it) because it’s so much cheaper to just buy a new one. Printer companies do this because they make more money on selling us their toner.


Software upgrades

Microsoft’s release of its VISTA operating system alone caused a spike in the e-waste stream. The new operating system simply couldn’t run on many older computers which lacked the memory or processing speed, leading those who wanted to keep up with the current platform to replace their computers.


Can’t change the battery

Most small electronics have rechargeable batteries, and after a certain point the batteries no longer hold a charge and need to be replaced. With some products, however, consumers can’t easily do that themselves and must take the product back to the manufacturer for a new battery. Many of Apple’s products are designed this way, including iPhones, iPods, laptops, iPads. Apple will replace your battery for a hefty fee but you must take or send it to them. (This is the point at which some people simply move on to a new product, especially for iPods.) Sometimes you can find a skilled geek who can also do this for you. Apple is also adept in getting its loyal customer base to constantly buy new gadgets. They keep releasing slightly different (and improved) versions of their iPods (classic, touch, nano, shuffle, etc).

(Source: Electronics Takeback Coalition)