Where do your electronics go to die?
By DC EcoWomen Guest Blogger Jamie Shopland
Take a look around your home – how many obsolete electronic devices do you have collecting dust? I bet it’s a lot. As I took an inventory of the devices around my own house, I found 5 laptops, 2 monitors, a Samsung smartphone, a Microsoft Zune MP3 player, countless laptop chargers and other cords, earbuds, and a 32-inch tube television. There is probably more. I am just one household, one consumer of electronics.
When I think about this on a grander scale, from my county of nearly 250,000 people, to the world’s population of over 7 billion and growing, it’s overwhelming and scary to contemplate the potential magnitude of our electronic waste, or e-waste. After you consider the magnitude, think about where all of this waste goes. Are you aware that, despite a Basal Convention ban, much of our e-waste is outsourced to China, making China one of the world’s major dumping grounds for these hazardous materials?
As I considered how much e-waste I had personally generated, my thoughts turned to the shopping madness of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and post-Christmas holiday sales. I’ve rarely been one to brave it and in 2014, the National Retail Federation estimated that over 40% or “140 million Americans were likely to shop in stores or online during Thanksgiving weekend” alone. I was not one of the 40%. Also in 2014, consumers were expected to buy “the highest levels [of electronics] since 1994” according to the Consumer Electronics Association. This is worrisome.
“China currently generates 6.1 million metric tonnes of e-waste a year, compared with 7.2 million for the U.S. and 48.8 million globally, according to the United Nations University’s Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative.” Does that alarm you? It alarms me when I consider this against how much e-waste is currently in existence compared to the volume of new-but-soon-to-be-obsolete electronics that will end up in our solid waste stream on their way to the Guangdong Province of China, among other places. If you are a “seeing is believing” kind of person, then see these photos by the Telegraph. And, if you need an example that hits closer to home, AT&T was recently ordered to pay (without admitting guilt, of course) $52M to the state of California for illegally dumping electronic waste in landfills unequipped to handle that type of waste. This is problematic. This is a global crisis.
With all of the obsolete electronics we keep in our homes, plus all the shiny new tech gadgets many of us have acquired this recent holiday season, just what impact does all of this electronic consumerism have on our health and environment? According to the National Institutes of Health, “[e-waste] can have serious repercussions for those in proximity to places where e-waste is recycled or burnt. A computer contains highly toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFR, polyvinyl chloride and phosphor compounds.” Researchers warn that airborne toxins from e-waste end up in the “soil-crop-food pathway,” causing heavy metal exposure in humans.
What Can I Do?
Are you asking what you can do to keep these hazardous items out of our solid waste systems? Good. It all comes back to you and me. You can start by recycling your electronics with a company that is certified for this type of recycling.
– Contact Best Buy to recycle many types of electronics free of charge. – Schedule an appointment with 1-800-GOT-JUNK to have a TV removed. – Checkout the EPA to find out how to donate or recycle certain electronics. – Donate old computers to groups like Project Reboot to help eliminate the technological divide in low-income families.
Aside from recycling your products, you can use the power of your pocketbook to shop at retailers who have taken the EPA’s recycling challenge; there are businesses leading by example to protect our environment from e-waste.
Lastly, tell everyone you know about the importance of keeping e-waste out of our solid waste stream and tell them how easy it can be to recycle electronic products.
It’s imperative to human and environmental health that before you make decisions to purchase new cell phones, laptops, TVs, game systems, etc. that you first make a plan to recycle your obsolete electronic devices. Don’t be part of the problem. Resolve to be part of the solution.
Jamie Shopland is a political junky, equity advocate, web 2.0 dilettante and rockstar at large. You can connect with her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamieshopland