In this modern world that we live in, computers, electronics and mechanical appliances are everywhere around us. You almost can’t find a place in today’s world where you’re not connected with at least one electronic device. And while the jury’s still out on whether this is irreversibly changing society or needlessly increasing the levels of stress we face in our daily lives, for the most part, these electronic devices help us. They help us interact with each other and stay in contact even when far away from one another. They help to keep us entertained, stimulating our minds and helping us learn in new and more interactive ways. And they help make our lives more efficient and more productive by allowing us to get more done in a day, more conveniently than ever before.
And while these things may be impacting the world in a positive way overall, there is a downside. Electronic devices, when not disposed of properly, create a great environmental risk that is damaging the planet and creating hazardous situations around the world. And if we’re not careful, the appliances, electronics and computers we so rely on for the modern conveniences of our society are going to be our downfall, swallowing us up and destroying our world.
What is E-Waste?
E-waste, or electronic waste, is the term used for all discarded electrical or electronic devices including computers, mobile phones, kitchen appliances, televisions and other devices containing electrical components. E-waste also refers to these devices in any state of discard including those destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal. Basically, if you’re done using it and you intend to get rid of the electronic device in some way, it’s considered e-waste.
The amount of e-waste around the world is rising alarmingly fast as more and more countries are joining the digital revolution. Just think, how many more people around the world have a mobile phone in their hands today than they did 10 years ago? In addition, technology is growing at a rate that is impossible to keep up with. Every few years there is a new technology that makes the old one obsolete, and all those outdated electronic devices that we so beloved a few years ago now look like dinosaurs.
All in all, the world as a whole is producing about 50 million tons of e-waste every single year, and that staggering figure is expected to rise up to 500% over the next decade as countries like India and China continue to digitize. And according to the EPA, only about 15 to 20% of that massive amount of e-waste is being recycled properly, meaning that we have a massive environmental ticking time bomb on our hands.
When e-waste is dumped or incinerated, it creates massive environmental risks due to the volatile materials that are used to create the electrical components of these devices. These chemicals, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are then leached into the ground water, soil and atmosphere surrounding the dump or burn sites.
Not only does this poison the water and soil and create issues for surrounding plant and wildlife, but it can directly affect the human population in the area. These chemicals are known carcinogens that are toxic to the body, and some can cause serious and lasting neurological and reproductive issues. These effects are intensified when the e-waste is improperly incinerated as the resulting smoke cloud creates a fine particulate matter, basically a haze of poisonous substances that can put people’s health in serious jeopardy.
Even when e-waste materials are simply left to rot in a landfill, they won’t biodegrade and will sit virtually forever and take up precious space on our planet.
And while the environmental risks of improperly disposing of e-waste materials are quite shocking, people also need to realize the potential security risks they face when they simply throw away their computers, smart phones and tablets. Devices with hard drives that are not erased properly can easily lead to identity theft. It doesn’t take a digital thief much work to get a computer you thought was damaged beyond repair to reveal your secrets. And that disposed computer can easily reveal your credit card numbers, address, social security number, bank account– it’s basically a custom delivered and neatly packaged invitation for someone to steal your identity and ruin your life just sitting there waiting for the clever thief to come along and take.
So What Can We Do?
First and foremost, it is important to simply realize that e-waste exists and needs to be taken care of differently than other waste materials. Most people have no idea that their electronic devices and appliances need to be disposed of in a specialized manner, and they have no idea where to start. But it only takes a tiny bit of extra effort to dispose of your old and unwanted electronic devices properly, and you’ll not only help the planet and keep everyone safe, you could be helping your community as well.
Just because you think something is junk doesn’t mean it’s unusable. If you’re thinking of throwing away your old smartphone or other electronic device because you just got the latest, greatest model – think again. If your electronic device or appliance is in usable condition, donate it. Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other charity organizations will accept donations in working order, and most locations will even come to you and pick up large items such as appliances. Giving your old electronics to charity is a win-win situation as your device won’t end up in a landfill poisoning the environment but instead in someone less fortunate’s possession where they can give it a new life and enjoy the conveniences of the technology.
Even if your device is not in working condition, you should contact your local charity organization and see if they will accept it. Many work with contractors that can cheaply give new life to these electronics so that they can live on and continue to work for their new owner for years to come.
Dispose of E-Waste Responsibly
If your device is past its prime and just can’t be recycled, you still can’t simply toss it in the trash with your moldy bread and banana peels. Look for designated e-waste disposal centers in your local area. These centers will transport the e-waste to specialized sites that can dismantle the electronic devices, recycle the parts that are still usable, and properly and safely dispose of the hazardous chemicals, keeping them out of our landfills as well as out of our water, soil and air.
Many municipalities offer e-waste disposal for both small and large electronics throughout the year, either on particular dates or at the request of the customer. Check with your local waste management department for this information. Most large electronics retailers offer some sort of e-waste disposal program. Ask about it when you purchase a new device, particularly if it’s replacing an old one. And many local churches, community groups and charities often hold e-waste disposal events where you can bring your old old electronics for free to get rid of properly. And if you’re still not sure where you can dispose of your e-waste items locally, call your local municipality offices and ask about e-waste programs in your area.
Why Recycling E-Waste Matters
It may seem like a trivial thing, just tossing your old smartphone or television set in the dumpster out back. You never see it again, and it doesn’t get dumped in your backyard, so why does it matter? But e-waste is a growing problem. As we use electronic devices for more and more things in our daily lives, the amount of e-waste increases. And if we don’t start addressing this problem now and properly disposing of these items, we may have an environmental and health catastrophe on our hands.