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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.

Developed nations are dealing with a crisis of overconsumption, which produces 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 lifespan—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 don’t come solely from the waste itself; even more severe 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-waste and attempt to 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? 

What can you do about E-waste?

Rethink the amount of electronics you buy: don’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 don’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 don’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 “E-waste Day†at SFU, the group is determined to tackle the issue of e-waste. To support them, join the Facebook group “Stop 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.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Greenpeace India

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Do you also know the dangers of Plastic Bottles to the environment this is a growing problem also. I think it all goes back to the amount people recycle (which is good) and now the lack of recycling plants. As a result the bottles etc are just finding there way to landfill sites and left to decompose which take years. Visit www.freshwatercoolers.com to view this article

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Part of the problem with e-waste is the lack of education (i.e. in general, most people are not even aware of what can/should be recycled or where it can be recycled) and a lack of convenience. We need to find a way to make it easy, convenient and well-known what to recycle and where to recycle it. Melissa http://www.earthfriendlybuys.com

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Nice Article. It is unfortunately a growing problem, and we cannot just rely on governments to regulate in order to solve the problem, although India and China have tightened their laws to ban the import of e-waste, there are still cases of people smuggling e-waste across the borders illegally. Educating consumers is an important step, but in order to reduce the E-waste problem, there needs to be an easy way for people to access recycling services. Unfortunately some manufacturers still see this as a cost they wish to avoid. There are more and more services available to businesses, but it is the consumer programs that have a long way to go. How many monitors or TV's do you see dumped on the side of the road?? Retailers and manufacturers need to collectively come up with a solution that makes it easy for consumers to recycle their electronic waste, but they also need to see some benefit from offering this service, as today there are still significant costs involved to properly recycle e-waste. Perhaps a new product rating system which not only looks at energy efficiency, but the "whole of lifecycle" approach, which gives credit to those companies that do the right thing and offer a take-back service, helping consumers choose those products over the ones who dont. Looking forward to reading more of your posts. http://www.thecarminegroup.com

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Interesting article. Unfortunately businesses/organizations hardly look at re-using hardware / electronics specifically in Europe, but immediately buy new products. By re-using electronics, the life time of a product is increased enormously, which will reduce the amount of cumulative E-Waste dramatically. The topic of Sustainable Materials Management is getting more and more important in Europe. Not looking at the fact of the enormous created carbon footprint of the supply chain (materials, production and worldwide logistics) of producing new electronics products. By re-using products we do not have to produce new products and decrease the related negative impact on the environment. To know more about the positive impact on the environment of reusing hardware: http://www.durabilit.com Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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Interesting article. Unfortunately businesses/organizations hardly look at re-using hardware / electronics specifically in Europe, but immediately buy new products. By re-using electronics, the life time of a product is increased enormously, which will reduce the amount of cumulative E-Waste dramatically. The topic of Sustainable Materials Management is getting more and more important in Europe. Not looking at the fact of the enormous created carbon footprint of the supply chain (materials, production and worldwide logistics) of producing new electronics products. By re-using products we do not have to produce new products and decrease the related negative impact on the environment. To know more about the positive impact on the environment of reusing hardware: http://www.durabilit.com Greetings from Amsterdam, Europe, The Netherlands.

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While some of believe that recycling, reusing and reducing items are very useful, there are those who think that recycling takes time as well as money from people. It may be true that recycling plants claim that they contribute to that conservation of our environment - and this can also be true - but let us bear in mind that whatever we may decide to do, as long as it is helping reduce our waste and educating the future generation, then let us do our part. I also read another interesting piece on recycling that others might find informative at: http://www.dezeen.com/2008/05/14/one-day-paper-waste-by-jens-praet/

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