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The Problem with E-Waste is Worse Than We Thought

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ewaste_is_a_problem_400.jpgSo you got yourself a shiny new laptop. That’s great, but what are you going to do with your old device? The right thing to do is to dispose of it with a company that handles e-waste properly. Otherwise, if you just chuck it in the trash, you’ll be contributing to an already serious environmental problem.

The Problem Starts with Our Culture…
One of the root problems that feed the e-waste crisis is the throwaway approach of the electronics industry. The average laptop is used for approximately two years. Cell phones are worse, averaging only 18 months before they’re traded in for a newer model; despite the fact that many of these replaced devices work perfectly fine. Often times, the buyer feels the need to upgrade in order to “keep up with the Joneses.” It’s very difficult to change this consumerist mindset, especially when it’s the primary way technology manufacturers make their money. At the same time, there’s some merit to owning the latest product in terms of having better security and increased productivity.

…And Spreads Around the World
Do you know what happens to your old electronics once they’re discarded? You’ll be surprised to learn that most e-waste doesn’t end up in your ON landfill. Instead, 70-to-80 percent of e-waste is shipped to landfills in other nations. But not just any nations; e-waste has a special destination: underdeveloped countries. Why’s this you ask? It’s not because the garbage industry wants to bless needy people with working secondhand electronics. Instead, e-waste is sent to underdeveloped countries, so that it can be processed in under-regulated environments.

Take for example Guiyu, China, the world’s largest processing hub of e-waste, where 5,500 businesses process 1.5 million pounds of junked devices every year. The e-waste businesses in Guiyu are able to thrive because of the lack of environmental laws, but it’s at the cost of the groundwater being poisoned by lead. This leads to high levels of lead poisoning in local children and an elevated rate of miscarriages. See for yourself images of Guiyu from Time:

Not being accountable to pesky environmental laws means that irresponsible disposal companies can simply burn the e-waste in order to extract its scrap metal. Burning e-waste like this is banned in developed countries for a reason–it releases toxins into the environment. One obvious problem with this approach is that both underdeveloped and developed nations share the same ozone.

What Make E-Waste so Bad?
One toxic chemical found in the batteries of computers and monitors is cadmium, which is extremely toxic to humans and the environment. Here are four more toxic chemicals commonly found in many electronics:

  • Lead: Used in most electronic equipment.
  • Beryllium: A lightweight metal found in many electronics.
  • Mercury: Used in many lighting displays.
  • Polyvinyl chloride: Often used for cabling in circuit boards.

Tons and Tons of E-Waste
To give you some perspective of how much e-waste is out there, and how much more is on the way, check out these e-waste statistics reported by TechRepublic:

In 2012, the US generated more than 9 million tons of e-waste, which was a huge jump from its 2 million tons in 2005. According to the EPA, 141 million mobile devices were ready for end-of-life management in 2008, but they made up less than 1% of discarded electronics. Of the electronic waste the US generated, only 25% was recycled. The other 75% was sent to landfills in the US or abroad.

Keep in mind that these stats only apply to the U.S. The global picture of e-waste is much larger, and the growing trend in America can be applied around the world. E-waste is a global problem that’s exponentially growing.

What Can You Do About It?
You’ve got a few options to make a difference. The first thing you can do is to reevaluate how your business participates in the throwaway culture in which we all live. Before you toss out a perfectly-good and working device, consider the option to repurpose it and reuse within your company. Or, you can donate it to a nonprofit organization that would get some use out of it.

If you need to dispose of your old electronics, then give Tektonic a call at (416) 256-9928. As an IT company, we deal with e-waste every day and take the proper precautions to recycle it in such a way that has minimal impact on the environment. Got an old busted computer that you don’t know what to do with? Don’t toss it in the trash. Give us a call today and we’ll take care of it for you!

Date: April 22nd, 2015, Author: Jorge Rojas

Toronto IT Support  /  Tektonic Blog  /  Technology  /  The Problem with E-Waste is Worse Than We Thought