Why Recycle

Today, though, a growing amount of e-waste is not considered to be products that have stopped working or become obsolete.

Technological advances are coming at us at such a dizzying speed that a lot of electronic devices that still work fine are the ones considered obsolete.

Think of the many VCR players that got replaced when the DVD player hit the market, and now the DVD players are getting replaced by Blu-ray players. If a product is powered electronically and someone thinks they can create a better version, that contributes to e-waste.

E-waste Hides Toxic Materials

While above ground, modern electronics are safe to use and be around. However, most electronics contain some form of toxic materials, including beryllium, cadmium, mercury, and lead, which pose serious environmental risks to our soil, water, air, and wildlife.

When E-waste gets buried at a landfill, it can dissolve in microscopic traces into the gross sludge that permeates at the landfill. Eventually, these traces of toxic materials pool into the ground below the landfill. This is known as leaching.

The more E-waste and metals at the landfill, the more of these trace toxic materials show up in the groundwater.

The Negative Effects on Air

Contamination in the air occurs when e-waste is informally disposed of by dismantling, shredding, or melting the materials, releasing dust particles or toxins, such as dioxins, into the environment that cause air pollution and damage respiratory health. E-waste of little value is often burned but burning also serves a way to get valuable metal from electronics, like copper. Chronic diseases and cancers are at a higher risk to occur when burning e-waste because it also releases fine particles, which can travel thousands of miles, creating numerous negative health risks to humans and animals. Higher value materials, such as gold and silver, are often removed from highly integrated electronics by using acids, Desoldering, and other chemicals, which also release fumes in areas where recycling is not regulated properly. The negative effects on air from informal e-waste recycling are most dangerous for those who handle this waste, but the pollution can extend thousands of miles away from recycling sites

The air pollution caused by e-waste impacts some animal species more than others, which may be endangering these species and the biodiversity of certain regions that are chronically polluted. Over time, air pollution can hurt water quality, soil and plant species, creating irreversible damage in ecosystems. For instance, an informal recycling hub in Guiyu, China that was formed by parties interested in extracting valuable metals from e-waste, and subsequently has caused the region to have extremely high lead levels in the air, which are inhaled and then ingested when returned to water and soil. This can cause disproportionate neurological damage to larger animals, wildlife and humans in the area.

The Negative Effects on Soil

When improper disposal of e-waste in regular landfills or in places where it is dumped illegally, both heavy metals and flame retardants can seep directly from the e-waste into the soil, causing contamination of underlying groundwater or contamination of crops that may be planted nearby or in the area in the future. When the soil is contaminated by heavy metals, the crops become vulnerable to absorbing these toxins, which can cause many illnesses and doesn’t allow the farmland to be as productive as possible.

When large particles are released from burning, shredding or dismantling e-waste, they quickly re-deposit to the ground and contaminate the soil as well, due to their size and weight. The amount of soil contaminated depends on a range of factors including temperature, soil type, pH levels and soil composition. These pollutants can remain in the soil for a long period of time and can be harmful to microorganisms in the soil and plants. Ultimately, animals and wildlife relying on nature for survival will end up consuming affected plants, causing internal health problems.

The Negative Effects on Water

After soil contamination, heavy metals from e-waste, such as mercury, lithium, lead and barium, then leak through the earth even further to reach groundwater. When these heavy metals reach groundwater, they eventually make their way into ponds, streams, rivers and lakes. Through these pathways, acidification and toxification are created in the water, which is unsafe for animals, plants and communities even if they are miles away from a recycling site. Clean drinking water becomes problematic to find.

Acidification can kill marine and freshwater organisms, disturb biodiversity and harm ecosystems. If acidification is present in water supplies, it can damage ecosystems to the point where recovery is questionable, if not impossible.

The Negative Effects on Humans

As mentioned, electronic waste contains toxic components that are dangerous to human health, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium and lithium. The negative health effects of these toxins on humans include brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. It can also considerably affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body, leading to disease and birth defects. Improper disposal of e-waste is unbelievably dangerous to the global environment, which is why it is so important to spread awareness on this growing problem and the threatening aftermath. To avoid these toxic effects of e-waste, it is crucial to properly e-cycle, so that items can be recycled, refurbished, resold, or reused. The growing stream of e-waste will only worsen if not educated on the correct measures of disposal.

Mining For New Metals Causes This Too

Not only is this a problem for E-waste in landfills, but this is a side effect of mining for new sources of metal too.

Having an environment-friendly source of recycled metal is better for the environment than a company digging up new sources of ore. Every time you recycle your electronics, you are preventing your E-waste from leaching toxic metals into your groundwater. But you’re also preventing it from happening at a mine somewhere else.

How Can We Help?

Fortunately, there’s a proven solution. The recycling of e-waste serves a lot of useful purposes. For instance, include protecting human and environmental health by keeping those devices out of landfills. Or recovering the parts within the devices that still have value and providing manufacturers with recycled metals that can be used to make new products.

Virtually all electronic waste contains some form of recyclable material. That includes materials like plastic, glass, and metals, which is why they may be considered “junk” or “obsolete” to consumers but still serve an essential purpose. It’s ironic, in some ways, that these devices are called “e-waste,” since they’re not waste at all. But in far too many instances, they are thrown away.

E-waste Problems

The definition of e-waste is likely to keep expanding. In an era of rapid technological advancement, more and more highly sophisticated electronic goods are being invented and manufactured. Just think of the concept of the “smart home.” It’s easy to recognize how many electronic devices can now do everything from offer security to turning lights on and off, to having fresh coffee ready before we wake up.

Unfortunately, a skyrocketing amount of e-waste is being written off by owners as junk. There’s no more significant example of that than computers, laptops, and smartphones.

New models arrive even as the current one appears to be working just fine. Despite that, the latest version always provides additional features that make it seem too enticing to resist.

So in answer to the question, “What is e-waste?” a good response today might be, “It depends.”

The technology innovators continue to create electric devices designed to make our lives easier and more convenient in every conceivable way. Still, we seem all too susceptible to quickly pitch the machines we already have. It doesn’t matter how satisfied we’ve been with them up until now.

One of the goals of the law was to ensure the management of waste in an environmentally sound manner.

The next major step was the Basel Convention in March 1989, an international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations and prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less-developed countries.

One thing that’s grown significantly since then has been the e-waste recycling industry. This industry has the most proven way of keeping e-waste out of landfills or from being burned in incinerators.

The recycling industry has been devoted to taking reusable parts from discarded electronic devices and recycling them for the benefit of local businesses and manufacturers.

As the amount of e-waste keeps rising, so has this industry, which today creates hundreds of thousands of jobs across the world by recycling the electronics we no longer want.

So much of what’s in e-waste still has value. Circuit boards contain valuable metals like silver, tin, gold, palladium, and copper.

Hard drives can be shredded and processed into aluminium ingots for use in the automotive industry.

In 1991, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in Switzerland with the introduction of a system to collect refrigerators. Other electric and electronic devices were added to the system in later years.

A decade later, the European Union implemented a similar system called the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive to establish e-waste recycling requirements for member nations.

E-waste Disposal

Since we know, consumers will keep buying new devices, it’s important to keep reinforcing that message that we need to recycle the older models, not throw them out.

There are serious environmental risks if we send our electronics to a landfill. In contrast, recycling provides considerable benefits to our environment.

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