Whatever happened to your old smartphone?

Is it possible to be a “connected” person and still have any moral authority to speak on behalf of the environment?

We rip through smartphones and iPads long before they’ve reached the end of their useful life and, for the most part, don’t think much about what happens to all the e-waste, the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.

Some counties — mine (Washington), for example — have hazardous waste collection centers that make it easy to drop the old-timers off and never give it another thought. Still, we often find ourselves wondering what really happens to all the stuff we “recycle.”

Last evening, PBS NewsHour reported on an investigation that trailed 200 old computers, printers and TVs that were dropped off at recycling facilities, “including some of the industry’s most reputable companies,” NewsHour said.

Even the most reputable recycling efforts — one partnership between Goodwill and Dell was cited, for example — didn’t stop the junk from ending up in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Each device “recycled” traveled an average of 2,500 miles. Much of it ended up in Hong Kong, which has a reputation for being a transit point for illegal trade and smuggling of all kinds, the investigators said.

Here’s another wrinkle: It’s getting harder to find places to “recycle” your old technology. Recycling is getting less profitable for electronics companies that sponsored it and several have dropped the programs.