The world is fighting many different ecological crises, but one of the least talked about is the problem of electronic waste, or e-waste.
It’s not just a huge problem within the United States – it’s quickly becoming a global crisis that must be addressed.
To stop the negative effects of e-waste in the world around us, it’s important to gain a better understanding of the problem, issues driving the crisis and how we can make a difference and help solve this problem.
Electronic waste includes waste from electronics, including discarded mobile phones, refrigerators, electronic office equipment, computers, television sets and electronic entertainment devices. According to GreenPeace.org, electronic waste is now responsible for 5% of municipal solid waste across the world, and e-waste affects more than just developed countries.
Why is e-waste such a problem? Not only is the world dealing with a significant amount of e-waste, but it’s the toxic materials contained in e-waste that makes it such a problem. Hundreds of different materials are used to make electronics and their components, including heavy metals, gases, plastics, chlorinated solvents and more. Some of the most common toxic materials found in electronic waste include:
How have our changing waste trends evolved to leave us in an e-waste crisis? Over the past couple of decades, our society has become dependent on electronics and electronics have become more readily available. Fifty years ago, when a family purchased a television, they kept it for a decade or more before disposing of it. However, many families upgrade a television every couple of years as companies continually market new upgrades and improved technology.
Today, all electronics have a shorter lifecycle than they did years ago. Many individuals upgrade electronics regularly, which is especially common among cellphone users. New electronics are constantly flooding the market, and the combination of new electronic products and shorter lifecycles result in more e-waste than ever before. Unfortunately, many consumers think of purchasing the newest technology without considering what will happen to their old electronics when they replace them.
What is happening to all the e-waste generated by consumers today? The EPA estimates that only 25% of the electronic waste within the United States is collected for recycling, so that means that 75% of e-waste is ending up somewhere else. Here’s a look at what generally happens to e-waste.
Reuse – In some cases, old electronics are reused, whether they are re-certified and resold or sent to developing countries for reuse. However, in some cases, electronics sent to developing countries for reuse are only used a short time and then dumped in areas that don’t have proper hazardous waste facilities.
Landfills – Unfortunately, much of the e-waste ends up in landfills today. The toxic chemicals found in e-waste often leach into the ground or may be released into the air, impacting the environment and local communities.
Export – It’s common for e-waste to be exported to other countries, such as India and China, where e-waste scrap yards take care of the electronic waste.
Incineration – Some e-waste is incinerated, but this is problematic because it results in the release of heavy metals into the air.
Recycling – Only a small percentage of e-waste is actually recycled. While recycling helps ensure that raw materials are reused, workers often end up handling hazardous chemicals, causing harm to the workers, the local community, and the local environment.
If you’re wondering why the e-waste crisis has become such a huge problem, it’s important to understand the issues that are driving this crisis. First, the combination of the high demand for new electronics and the speed at which gadgets become obsolete continue to drive this crisis.
Another problem is the toxic design of electronic equipment, since most electronics contain toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead. The designs of today’s electronics often fail to take recycling and protecting the environment into account. Other problems driving the e-waste crisis include few financial incentives to recycle and few laws that regulate the disposal of e-waste.
The situation may seem grim, but innovators are coming up with solutions. One of the solutions is for electronics manufacturers to stop using dangerous, hazardous materials when constructing electronics.
Another helpful solution is for manufacturers to start taking responsibility for the full life cycle of their electronics, taking back electronics for safe recycling, disposal or re-use after they reach the end of the life cycle.
Planet Green is part of the solution by remanufacturing ink cartridges. These remanufactured ink cartridges are just as good as their original-brand counterparts – the average ink cartridge can be remanufactured up to four times. This keeps tons of plastic, metals and toxic chemicals out of landfills.
Of course, it’s not just electronics manufacturers that can help. You can help too, by supporting companies that work to make eco-friendly products, returning electronics to the manufacturer after use and thinking before purchasing new devices if you don’t need them.
And of course, a great way to help reduce this mounting problem is to participate in e-waste recycling drives such as the one offered by Planet Green Recycle.