Ever trade in a cell phone? Decide that your computer is running too slowly and want to get a new one? Most people have done this at least once, but what did you do with your old electronics?
Today we live in a disposable and information oriented era. Everyone needs a computer and a cell phone to get around and stay in touch and when these things get old, we generally go out, buy a new one, and get rid of the old. Those old electronics that we throw out are known as electronic waste, or e-waste.
E-waste doesn’t have a true definition, though some people define it as most electronics. This definition includes household appliances such as microwaves and televisions, as well as computers and smartphones. All of these electronics contain hazardous substances, like mercury, lead, arsenic, plastics and flame retardants.
When dropped in landfills the e-waste decays and the toxic matter leeches out into ground soil and watershed, accumulating in the food chain. When burned in a waste pile, dioxins and furans are created and released into the air. These two chemicals are some of the most harmful to humans. Toxins from e-waste can cause cancer and other health problems if people are exposed to them.
The obvious solution to this problem is to recycle your e-waste properly. There are many recyclers out there that will happily take your old computers and electronics and dispose of them, but the harsh reality is that they don’t always recycle the old electronics correctly as they have advertised.
Only 11-14% of e-waste is recycled in the United States. It is usually recycled not in well-lit facilities, but in federal prisons by unpaid inmates where it poses a serious health hazard. Another portion of it is burned and dumped either in landfills or illegally in non-descript places.
And a whopping 70-80% of e-waste is transported, often just as illegally, to other countries such as China and India. There it is broken down in subpar facilities, often being burned in open-air pits and broken down in acid baths. The unusable parts are just dumped in a landfill.
This not only threatens the environment, but also poses a risk to the people working to break down and recycle this e-waste. The process is done without any sort of safeguards for the workers, and that is why it is often transported abroad. It is ultimately cheaper for overseas workers to break it down, without being bound by United States environmental laws.
It also undercuts our idea of ‘recycling’. When most people think of recycling, we think of something being broken down and reused again, saving natural resources and reducing trash while helping our environment.
But there are ways to help cut down on e-waste. One of the simplest is using your phone or computer until it breaks. Many people trade in their phones every two years or even sooner, when the phone is perfectly useable. That goes for buying new computers, appliances, and other devices, as well.
Another way to help is to find a trusted recycler, such as the E-Stewards. The company gives out information about e-waste and recycles it safely, without transporting it overseas. They also have many certified pick up stations throughout the United States. Taking your electronics to one will guarantee it finds its way to a proper recycling facility and not to China.
E-waste is a growing problem, but it is one that can be remedied by simply changing how we use our electronics. Think before you throw your television to the curb, or throw your old phone in the trash. It could be recycled and reused for bettering the world.