As new electronic gadgets come on the market every day, consumers clamour to buy them, and in doing so dispose of their old products. But, where exactly do old electronic gadgets go to die? Most are improperly disposed of, and that is the heart of a new growing problem called electronic or e-waste.
Defining the e-waste problem
Electronic waste is not the same as other, more common forms of waste. It is non-biodegradable, and the improper disposal of electronics poses a severe threat to humans and the environment.
‘Electronic waste’ comprises all the electronic gadgets and gizmos that we throw out. They may be mobile phones, television sets, refrigerators, PSPs, entertainment devices, office electronic equipment (paper shredders, printers) and other electronic devices.
The reason e-waste is so difficult to dispose of is because it contains substances which are dangerous to the health and the environment such as Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) which contain high concentrations of lead and phosphors. They are necessary for the product to work, but they are classified as ‘hazardous household waste’.
The Damage to Humans and the Environment
Waste from consumer electronics contain PCBs, cadmium, mercury and lead. These substances are highly toxic and carcinogenic and, when carelessly handled, can contaminate our food and water supply and even find a way into our food chain, destroying whole ecosystems.
Burning these products is not the answer as this causes toxic fumes to be emitted, as well as creating the potential of inhalation by humans and animals. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer, while cadmium, lead and mercury affect the central nervous system, which can cause cell damage and renal failure. Releasing harmful toxic fumes also affects our environment by further depleting the ozone layer.
Due to the difficulty and cost of electronics recycling, as well as spotty enforcement of legislation regarding e-waste exports, vast amounts of used electronics are being sent to developing countries. Lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing e-waste more profitable yet hazardous in those countries. However, as responsible consumers of electronic goods, it is up to us to make subtle changes in our lifestyle and conserve our natural resources.
Protecting Humans and Saving Our World
Here’s what you can do
Become an informed consumer! Being mindful of electronics disposal is critical. There are facilities that specifically deal with this kind of hazardous material. When electronics are handled and sorted properly, e-waste can be a very valuable source of secondary raw materials.
If you need to get rid of an old phone or electronic item, consider donating your used products to social programs—and help victims of domestic violence, children safety initiatives, environmental causes, and more. For each item received, the World Wildlife Fund will receive one dollar.
Instead of getting a brand new smartphone, why not invest in a ‘modular smartphone’ or a ‘Phoneblok’? These types of phones are more durable and have the technology to change certain parts of the phone making them more environmentally friendly. Being able to simply replace the part of the phone that is broken will reduce e-waste.
Or how about curbing your electronic device appetite a little bit? Want that brilliant new iPhone that just came out? Let it be your birthday gift! Besides, do you really need an extra device? Try finding different uses for the same gadget.
One way to deal with the problem is to see if anyone wants to buy your old tech toys. Many companies have sprung up to take them off your hands, like TechForward which will let you sign up when you first buy your electronic goods, and then, after a certain period of time will buy it from you for a set price.
Some electronics stores offer a convenient ‘take-back’ program. In the majority of cases you won’t receive any money in exchange for your old equipment, but, this at least this provides you with a painless and easy way to get rid of older electronics. Many retailers and manufacturers are starting to offer take-back programmes but you may have to specifically ask them about this. Manufacturers who have publicized their take-back programmes include Apple, Canon, Dell, Epson, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Lexmark, LG, Sony and Toshiba.
By Prekshaa Veeraragavan