Computers, keyboards, printers, TVs, and
cell phones, these are a few of our favorite things. Many
Americans, and the citizens of developed countries world wide
have come to love and depend on the electronic devices we use
every day. We check the news on our computers in the morning,
and watch our favorite sit-com in the evening. We keep in touch,
and do business using our cell phones. But there is an often
ignored issue involving our love affair with our devices, the
growing amount of E-waste the world is producing, and the result
of our attempts to deal with it.
According to Greenpeace the
world throws away 20-50 tonnes of E-waste each year. Our
discarded computers, keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, mobile
phones, and TVs are all included in this total. When I consider
my own home, I count around 15 electronic devices. Some still
being used, and more than a few mobile phones, no longer loved,
have been relegated to the junk drawer, kept " just in case". In
the end, all will be thrown out.
The majority of the quickly growing world wide stream of E-waste
comes from North America, and Europe. Although some less
developed countries have been catching up quickly. Asia
generates an estimated 12 tonnes of E-waste annually.
In the US 4.6 million tonnes of discarded electronics goes in to
landfills according to the EPA.
Once in the landfill, your old electronics start to release a
variety of toxins including heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and
mercury. These toxic metals may reach the ground water, and
enter the food chain. Another common method of disposal or
electronics in the US is incineration. This sends the toxic
components into the air.
With developed Western countries producing a vast majority of
the worlds E-waste, many are surprised to find that most it ends
up being sold to companies in China, and India. In these
countries armies of low paid, and poorly protected workers
process and recycle E-waste. They extract the valuable copper,
iron, silicon, and gold from the waste. This process has the
potential to be very damaging to the environment and dangerous
for the worker. Lower pay for workers, non existent
environmental regulations, and lower safety standards for
workers have made these countries the receptacle for our
The best possible solution for the growing E-waste problem is
reuse. Many schools and non-profit organizations would be
thankful for the working computer that you consider obsolete.
Once our electronics are no longer usable, there are responsible
ways to recycle them. The EPA recognizes two certification
standards for responsible recycling of
E-waste: the Responsible
Recycling Practices (R2)and the e-Stewards® standards
. Companies certified under these programs arecommittedto
reducing the human and environmental impact of recycling
electronic waste. Both of these organizations offer tools on
their websites that allow you to find a local facility to
recycle your E-waste responsibly.