Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Poison in your I-Pod: The Detrimental Effects of E-Waste


By: Morgan Bennette-Eaton

When you think of poisoning your environment you’re probably thinking of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles or smoke stacks from corrupt corporation’s factories.  Many don’t realize that one of the biggest contributors to environmental poisoning is from hazardous components inside of electronics that are discarded of improperly; this is called E-Waste.

What Exactly is E-Waste?
E-waste is a loose term applied to obsolete or broken consumer and business electronic equipment that is discarded.  The majority of E-waste would be things like old computers, mp3 players, TV’s, etc.
E-waste can be very detrimental because components inside these obsolete electronics can contain things like mercury and other toxins that can have adverse effects on environments.  These old computers and mp3 players are discarded into landfills and the hazardous materials, which they contain, can seep into nearby soil, water sources and even can pollute the air.


How Can Improper Disposal of E-Waste Harm the Environment?

Landfill
When e-waste is deposited into landfills, the hazardous materials can leach into the land and nearby water sources, also over time they are released into the air.  According to the US EPA, more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste ended up in US landfills in the year 2000.  In Hong Kong, it is estimated that 10-20 percent of discarded computers go to landfills.  Many countries are now instituting regulations that prevent e-waste from being dumped into landfills due to it’s hazardous content.

Incineration
When e-waste is incinerated it releases heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead into the air and ashes.  Mercury released into the atmosphere can accumulate in organic material and life forms; fish being one of the most significant.

Reuse
Although recycling e-waste is better than throwing it in the garbage, the harmful materials in the e-waste can end up harming workers who are employed at recycling yards. 

Export
Recently e-waste has been largely discarded of by export to other countries; often this violates international law.  It has been found that in the US, 50-80 percent of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way.  China tried to curb this illegal exporting of e-waste by banning it in Mainland China in 2000.  Despite this the laws are not working and many e-waste scrap yards are still popping up in China along with places like India, Bangalore, and Mumbai where local gangs have popped up taking control of the yards in an attempt to squeeze profit out of the waste.  

Here’s a link to a 60-minutes special on the illegal trade of e-waste: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5274959n

Also check out this map that highlights the main areas where e-waste is being exported: 


What can you do to help and why?
You can help curb the secretion of these hazardous materials into our environment by following the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Reduce
Try to cut down consumption of electronics as much as possible.  If it’s something you don’t need than don’t buy it.  With the age of streaming and downloads you can reduce buying things like CD’s and certain hardware for your computers, but by trying to reduce how much electronic material we have than they will never have to be discarded.

Reuse
Try to reuse electronics as much as possible; if you can avoid having to upgrade your products every year than do.  A great way to stretch out the use of electronics is to hand them down, either to a family member or you can donate them to a non-profit or company.

Recycle
When all else fails and you need to get rid of you electronics remember to recycle them and dispose of them in a proper way, don’t just toss them into your recycle bin.  There are companies that will pick up your old electronics and discard of them for you and in most major cities these days there are electronic recycling drop centers.

Visit http://www.ewaste.com/ to view a company like rcr&r who are taking steps to help businesses discard of unwanted and obsolete electronics.

Sources:
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/the-e-waste-problem/where-does-e-waste-end-up/

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