Headphones on Wooden Table

Music E-Waste

by Barbara Joens, Climate Reality Leader and Unity College Student.

Modern technology has made listening to music easier than ever before. In 1982, the first CD player was released, followed by the first version of the iPod in 2001. In recent times, it has become a common practice to use smartphones to listen to the radio or a music service, something that 87% of 18 to 29 year olds in the United States were reported as having done in 2016 (Anderson, 2016).

Technology continues to advance, which benefits music-lovers by providing them with more convenient ways to enjoy their favorite artists and songs. However, it is evident that as technology advances, old technology frequently gets left behind. Many music listeners are drawn to new technology for a number of reasons. New devices come with convenient features that old devices do not have, which makes them more attractive to purchase.

Apple is a tech company constantly releasing upgraded products with improvements.

Continuing to move on to the latest music-playing devices means producing more electronic waste. Electronic waste, or “e-waste,” is becoming an increasingly serious problem. E-waste is all electronic devices and accessories that are unwanted, outdated, or no longer usable. As people move on to the latest music players, an excessive amount of e-waste is produced. Unfortunately, only 10% of e-waste gets recycled throughout the globe (Recycle Coach, 2019).

While many people think that only large devices pose a problem, the accessories you use to listen to music may be contributing to e-waste as well. People throw out small accessories, such as headphones that no longer work properly. Headphones are easily replaceable, so people often do not think twice about throwing out an old pair that no longer work. Large devices, such as music players and smart phones, have increasingly shorter lifespans. If electronics were made to last longer and be more durable, there would be less e-waste. In addition, aggressive advertising is able to persuade people to want the latest and coolest things. This is particularly true for ads targeting young people.

A broken pair of headphones to be thrown out as photographed by Markus Kniebes

So, why is it a big deal if you improperly dispose of your outdated music players or broken headphones? The 90% of e-waste that does not get recycled ends up posing various risks to the environment and human health. Old electronics contain chemicals that can be harmful to humans, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium (Recycle Coach, 2019). These chemicals end up polluting the environment. Illegal exportation of e-waste to foreign countries is also a common practice. People try to recover valuable materials from the e-waste, which exposes them to chemicals and can cause negative health effects from the exposure.

Even the smallest choices can make a difference for the better.

What can we do to prevent our music purchases from becoming e-waste?

  • Invest in good music products.
    Be sure to do research in advance to so that your next purchase of an item will have the features that you want. This will help avoid being tempted to buy new products, and adding your old products to e-waste.
  • Treat your music accessories with care.
    Wireless ear buds are easy to lose. If they become lost in a public area, the finder will most likely discard them instead of taking the extra steps to recycle them. In order to prevent this from happening, make sure to keep your wireless earbuds and other small accessories in an appropriate case. This can also prevent your accessories from getting damaged. With headphones that have a cord, wrap the cord in a way similar to how it arrived in the original packaging, and secure it with an elastic band. This will prevent damage to the headphones that result from tangling and pulling.
  • Properly recycle any unwanted music devices.
    Recycling your old CD players and iPods is much more sustainable than allowing them to end up as e-waste. Check out recycling facilities in your area and see if they accept unwanted music devices. If not, instead of just throwing them in the garbage and having them end up damaging the environment, consider the possibility of giving them to friends or family members. There are also some manufacturers that have trade-in policies. Call the store that sold you the device and ask if this is an option.

Together, we can continue to enjoy music in a sustainable manner.

Listen responsibly. Listen sustainable.


Anderson, M. (2016, January 29). More Americans using smartphones for getting directions, streaming TV. Pew Research Center. http://pewrsr.ch/1nTvqZj
Recycle Coach. (2019, October 4). An intro to E-wastE: Why it’s a problem. https://recyclecoach.com/residents/blog/an-intro-to-e-waste-why-its-a-problem/

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