E-Waste alone is creating a critical pollution problem in the United States and the world. Learn more about its effects and what we can do about it.
The world is fighting many different ecological crises, but one you don’t hear about as often is the problem of electronic waste or e-waste.
Not only is it a massive problem in the United States – it has very quickly become a global crisis.
To stop the adverse effects of e-waste, we need a better understanding of the problem. Also, we need to understand the issues driving the crisis and how to make a difference in solving this problem.
In this post, you’ll get:
• A better understanding of what e-waste is
• How to limit and properly dispose of e-waste
• Issues that currently contribute to the rising e-waste problem
• Solutions already in motion (plus what you can do, too)
Electronic waste is waste from any electronic, including:
• Discarded mobile phones
• Electronic office equipment
• Television sets
• Electronic entertainment devices
According to GreenPeace.org, electronic waste is now responsible for 5% of municipal solid waste across the world. Therefore, it is clear that how we handle electronic waste in developed countries has more of an effect on the world as a whole.
The problem with e-waste isn’t just about the sheer amount of waste. One of the most significant components of this crisis is the toxic materials contained in e-waste. Manufacturers use hundreds of dangerous materials to produce electronics and their components — materials including heavy metals, gases, plastics, chlorinated solvents and more.
Some of the most common toxic materials found in electronic waste include:
• Mercury – Even low doses of mercury can be poisonous and may cause kidney and brain damage.
• Lead – Humans are very familiar with the adverse health effects of lead, including brain damage, particularly in children.
• Beryllium – Many connectors and motherboards include beryllium, which is a human carcinogen.
• Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) – BFRs affect hormonal functions that are essential for healthy development negatively.
• Cadmium – Cadmium may cause cancer. When it accumulates within the body, it can result in kidney damage.
To understand how the e-waste crisis is growing into such a huge problem, it’s essential to acquaint yourself with the problems that are driving this crisis. Let’s take a look at a few electronic waste issues.
First, the combination of the high demand for new electronics and the speed at which gadgets become obsolete continue to drive this crisis. Unfortunately, many consumers think of purchasing the latest technology without considering what will happen to their old electronics when they replace them.
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 continually flooding the market, and the combination of new electronic products and shorter lifecycles result in more e-waste than ever before.
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 TV every couple of years as companies continually market new upgrades and improved technology.
Another problem is the poisonous design of electronic equipment since most electronics contain toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead. The models 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 no laws that regulate the disposal.
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. Therefore, that means that 75% of e-waste ends up somewhere else. Here’s a look at what generally happens to e-waste.
Reuse – In some cases, people and companies reuse old electronics. They can be re-certified and resold or sent to developing countries for reuse. However, all too often, electronics sent to developing countries for reuse are only used a short time. Then they are 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 in e-waste often leach into the ground or released into the air, impacting the environment and local communities.
Export – Much of the US waste is exported to other countries, such as India and China, where scrap yards take care of electronic waste. However, China recently stopped accepting our waste leaving US waste removal in a lurch.
Incineration – Some e-waste is incinerated. However, 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.
The situation may seem grim, but innovators are coming up with solutions.
• One solution 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. Things like taking back electronics for safe recycling, disposal or reuse 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. Did you know that 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. Give these ideas a try:
• Support tech companies that offer eco-friendly products or practices
• Look up buyback programs in your area
• Recycle your electronics after use
• Think before purchasing new devices if you don’t need them
• Purchase previously owned, refurbished, or remanufactured products
And of course, a great way to help reduce this mounting problem is to participate in e-waste recycling programs such as the one offered by Planet Green Recycle.
Did you know that you can recycle inkjet cartridges and small electronics and earn funds for your school, sports team, non-profit, or community organization? Learn more about our free recycling fundraiser program and start earning today!