The Dangers of E-Waste
What is E-waste?
E-waste stands for electronic waste. This includes anything from discarded and broken cell phones, computers, iPods, and small appliances.
DevelopedÂ nationsÂ are dealing with a crisis of overconsumption, which producesÂ many harmful consequences. One of these consequences is e-waste, which is created when electronic products are thrown away. Unfortunately, the production, consumption and ultimate disposal of e-waste is sped up with planned obsolescence, when products are intentionally designed to have a short lifespanâ€”they either break quickly and cannot be repaired inexpensively, or new versions are continually being designed to replace older ones. With the technology available to us, products can be designed to last for decades, if not longer. However, things seem to be lasting for less and less time. This is all in the name of profit, benefitting corporations that want consumers to keep buying products. According to Greenpeace USA, the average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005, and mobile phones have a lifecycle of less than two years in developed countries.
But the dangers donâ€™t come solely from the waste itself;Â even more severeÂ problems occur when the waste is broken apart. When e-waste is disposed of, it is often sent overseas where people in struggling developing nations take apart the products to recycle the e-wasteÂ and attempt toÂ salvage parts with any value. Some recycling companies that appear to be reputable engage in this careless practice as well. North America and Europe are known to export a large percentage of their e-waste to countries like India, China, and Ghana.
In the process of taking apart the electronics, these overseas workers are exposed to dangerous toxins, putting themselves, their families and their environment at risk. These toxins include heavy metals such as lead, beryllium and mercury, as well as chlorinated solvents, flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These are all deadly chemicals. Why should people in developing countries have to pay for the greed of our wasteful consumer society?Â
What can you do about E-waste?
Rethink the amount of electronics you buy: donâ€™t buy a new cell phone just because your contract expires and you can get the newest version that everyone else is getting. Also, look into getting your small appliances repaired before buying new ones. Reduce, re-use and recycle, in that order. Remember that no matter what advertising tells us, things donâ€™t make us happy.
When you do have to get rid of electronics, recycle them with reputable companies. You can also contact the company where your product came from in the first place, and ask them if they have a take-back program. Always ask the recycling depot or company if they send the electronics overseas. If they donâ€™t give a clear answer, choose somewhere else. Or, do some research and check with environmental organizations that would be able to direct you to a recycling depot in your area.
Support groups that are against e-waste. Recently, students from Simon Fraser University have formed a group to ban e-waste on campus. With plans to make an educational documentary to raise awareness of e-waste, teach people where they can safely recycle their electronics, challenge the amount of electronic waste people produce, and create an â€œE-waste Dayâ€ at SFU, the group is determined to tackle the issue of e-waste. To support them, join the Facebook group â€œStop E-waste at SFUâ€, and follow the blog http://e-waste2011.blogspot.com/, which they update with their weekly progress, and you can find links to educational resources on e-waste and recycling depots around Vancouver.
Photo credit: Greenpeace India