What happens when your television, laptop, fax machine or other common electronic products reach the end of their useful life? For many people, it simply means tossing these items in the trash and buying new – and this leads to one of the fastest growing areas of waste in our country: e-waste.
Advancements in Technology Can Contribute to Growing Problem of e-Waste
Technology is a rapidly growing industry and as each manufacturer improves their device or releases a faster, more powerful computer, many people and business owners are quick to throw out their older electronics simply to upgrade to the latest and greatest technology available.
Most electronics could be refurbished, reused in another capacity or otherwise recycled, rather than just tossed in the trash. The growing green movement has led many environmentally conscious people to make an effort to use less paper and recycle whenever possible. However, until more people become aware of e-Waste, our increasing reliance on electronics in order to reduce paper is simply replacing one problem with another.
Environmental and Health Concerns of e-Waste
E-waste is often more dangerous than people realize. Consider cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which are found in many televisions: CRTs contain lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants. A cellular phone contains anywhere from 500 to 1,000 different components and many of these components are also known to contain toxic heavy metals and a variety of dangerous or hazardous chemicals.
When we drop these electronics off at the landfill, the materials can poison our water supply and soil, which then leads to health problems for people and animals in the area. Much of the world’s e-waste is being illegally exported to Asia and Africa, causing major problems in the area. Here are some of the chemicals found in e-waste and their effects:
Brominated flame retardants: These do not decompose easily in the environment, and long term exposure to brominated flame retardants can cause impaired memory function and learning. Pregnant women exposed to brominated flame retardants have been shown to give birth to babies with behavioral problems as it interferes with estrogen and thyroid functioning.
Lead: Found in most computer monitors and televisions, lead exposure leads to intellectual impairment in children and serious damages to human reproductive systems, the nervous system and blood.
Cadmium: Found in laptop rechargeable batteries and other electronic device rechargeable batteries, this can cause damage to kidneys and bones.
Mercury: Found in flat screen monitors and televisions, this damages the central nervous system and brain in people of all ages, but particularly during the early years of development.
Hexavalentchromium Compounds: A known carcinogen, these are used in the creation of metal housings, which are typical of many electronic products.
Instead of tossing your used or outdated electronics in the trash, consider making an electronics donation to a charitable organization that can put them to good use and prolong their life span:
• eBay’s Rethink Initiative connects people with businesses that refurbish computers.
• EcoSquid helps consumers identify options for recycling, donating, or selling their used electronics.
• Electronic Industries Alliance’s Consumer Education Initiative helps you find donation programs and recycling options for electronics products in each state.
• Techsoup helps people find locations to donate their electronics or to find companies that refurbish electronics.
Consider supporting manufacturers who offer a voluntary take back program; but do some additional research to ensure the company also has a policy against exporting the e-waste to other countries before you participate.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has also published a comprehensive report regarding Electronics Reuse and Recycling, which can help you discover additional methods for reducing your e-waste and responsible methods for disposing of your used electronics.
Don’t have an electronic to recycle just yet? You can still help by minimizing waste associated with electronic use. For example, find a savings account that allows for e-statements. This vastly minimizes the paper waste associated with direct mail bills and statements sent to your home. Also, when making online payments, pay directly with your checking account online, rather than sending checks or money orders.
Remember that e-waste is a problem that we can resolve by simply being more aware of how we use and dispose of our electronics.
Stock photo courtesy of Big Stock Photo