3 Recycle Your Old Phones
One reason why electronic gadgets will never be as cheap as, say, candy bars is that they contain precious metals. Obviously these metals are considered "precious" for a reason -- there is a limited amount of them in the world, and obtaining more of them is a huge pain in the ass. Specifically, it requires massive, highly elaborate mining operations that, oh by the way, create tons of waste products.
"But at least I can poop and watch Castle simultaneously."
Gold mines in particular have been compared to nuclear waste dumps, thanks to their ability to produce deposits of cyanide and other pollutants. So there's quite a bit of environmental baggage attached to your shiny new iPhone, and odds are you're going to dump it for a new one in a year or two. The same goes for your laptop -- where you find circuit boards, you find elements that had to be ripped out of the Earth at great cost to people and the environment.
The good news is that even if your phone or computer is outdated, the minerals used to make them are still periodic-table fresh. The gold, copper, silver, palladium, and other precious metals contained in aging electronics can all be melted down and reused as raw materials for the electronics of the future. Circuit boards, for example, contain anywhere from 30 to 40 times more copper than what you'd get out of the equivalent weight of mined ore. Gold is even better, since circuit boards hold up to 800 times an equal amount of gold ore dug up from underground mines. Technology manufacturing has already done the work by putting these resources in one place; the only thing left to do is recycle them once we've finished.
"Scrooge McDuck ain't got nothin' on me!"
"But wait!" our theoretical cynic out there asks. "It's not like recycling would eliminate the need for mines. Surely we're not getting rid of electronics quickly enough to meet the demand." Well, the demand is pretty high, but you're underestimating just how disposable our technology is. Anywhere from 100 to 130 million cellphones are tossed into the trash each year in America alone. Considering that 1 million phones produce about 35 kilograms of gold, phone recycling has a higher output than many gold-producing nations. The problem? Only 1 percent of those phones are recycled.
And that's just phones. The EPA reports that in 2009, approximately 2.37 million tons of electronics were discarded into the waste stream. That includes televisions, computers, printers, and even computer mice. Recycling these items could provide incentives to cut down on the environmental waste produced by mining operations and prevent electronic waste salvagers in developing nations from risking their lives for a pittance.
"You have 8 pounds of gold and you lost three fingers. Here's some expired McDonald's coupons."
So what is the laborious and expensive process to recycle your old gadgets? Well, it involves dropping them in a box, for free, the next time you're out buying something. Within North America, retailers like Best Buy, Staples, and even Walmart will collect most, if not all, of your used electronics (just do a search here for a location near you), meaning you could literally donate your out-of-date computer the very day you pick up a new one. There's basically no reason not to do it, other than pure spite.
2 Donate Your Placenta
Many of you only know about "stem cells" due to the controversy they cause, particularly in the U.S., where the funding of stem cell research has been criticized by abortion opponents. But if you're not sure what exactly they are or why they're important, in short, stems cells are special cells that can turn into any other kind of cell, which has massive implications for medicine (note: you are made entirely of cells).
And there are many ways to obtain all kinds of these life-saving stem cells. For example, did you know that a specific type of stem cell is produced in huge concentrations within the human body and used in a variety of life-saving medical procedures, and right now we're tossing them in the trash?
"Sounds great!" you're thinking. "Where are they?" We'll give you a clue: You A) throw it away in terror after your baby is born and B) make a pact with everyone in the maternity ward that it will never be mentioned again. We're talking about that demon pepperoni that feeds your bundle o' joy and your nightmares after childbirth: the placenta.
Yes, before you go tossing out (or chowing down on) that bloody flapjack that popped out of your or your significant other's nethers, know that science has discovered that the placenta is actually chock-full of perfectly good stem cells that can be used for medical research and treatment. The placenta and umbilical cord contain hematopoietic stem cells, which is a fancy name for cells that can literally create blood. They're the same type of cell that's extracted from your hip during bone marrow transplants, except the placenta conveniently flops out of the body during childbirth, rather than having to be painfully drawn out with a needle.
"Nurse, I distinctly said the BIG needle!"
The discovery is a big freaking deal, by the way, as hematopoietic stem cells can treat blood disorders like sickle cell anemia, immunodeficiency diseases like HIV, multiple forms of cancer, and more. It's been predicted that 1 in every 400 Americans will need hematopoietic stem cell treatments over the next 70 years. Thankfully, mothers are already producing a free side of stem cells with the birth of every bouncing baby.
So if you're pregnant, you're fully capable of contributing to a very necessary medical cause. All you need to do is follow this simple two-step process: 1) Find out if your birthing facility of choice accepts hematopoietic stem cell/cord blood donations and 2) tell them you want them to keep your placenta and umbilical cord. Congratulations! You have helped one person's life while simultaneously bringing another into the world. Just resist the urge to use your placenta as a spa facial or enjoy a lotus birth. (Seriously, don't click that Wikipedia link. It's like Basket Case, but real.)
It's basically a neonatal chain gang.