Technology is always evolving, and as a consequence, we are creating mountains of obsolete computers, cellphones, iPads, and all manner of accessories. Everything breaks down eventually — it may take hundreds of years in a landfill, or happen while it’s still being used. Electronic devices are made up of various materials, each with its own rate of decomposition. This in itself is a problem, because some materials become toxic and dangerous when their more degradable parts have broken down (e.g. batteries). However, most of the materials used in electronics have a long “life” and will remain in virtually the same form for the foreseeable future.
Never Break Down
In the most literal sense, everything decomposes eventually, but that could mean millions of years. This goes for materials such as metal, plastic, and glass. Glass can take 1000s of years, plastic, 500. Thinner metals may breakdown sooner, but it is unknown how long solid blocks like battery packs take.
Always Breaking Down
The important aspect of decomposing electronics is not how long the materials take to fully decay, but what impact they have on the environment while the devices are in the process of breaking down. Electronics often contain toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and beryllium. These substances can find their way into the soil, and make their way into air and water. For example, the shell of a battery may degrade in a century or less, and will expose the toxic heavy metals within.