With e-waste now the world’s biggest and fastest-growing waste stream, the dumping of unwanted phones, computer products and other electronic devices in a responsible way has become an urgent worldwide priority. It’s super important to get your head around electronic waste disposal.
Unfortunately, a large majority of e-waste around the world is incorrectly disposed of along with general household rubbish, with some devastating consequences.
We’ve uncovered five things you may not know about why it is so important to reduce, re-use and recycle when it comes to e-waste.
1. E-waste is highly toxic
Lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium are just a few of the hazardous substances contained within many electronic devices. In fact, older style computer screens can contact up to 3 kilograms of lead each.
When electronics are dumped into landfill with general waste, these toxic chemicals leach into our soil, water and air. This not only creates significant environmental damage, but can end up contaminating marine life, other wildlife, agriculture and – subsequently – us.
Human exposure to even tiny amounts of many of these chemicals has been linked to various cancers, behavioural problems and lung disorders, among other illnesses.
2. Electronic waste is growing at a frightening rate
eWaste is piling up around the world at an estimated rate of more than 55 million tons per year, and is currently being sent to landfill at three times the rate of general waste.
In 2013 in Australia alone, 4 million computers and 3 million TVs were purchased, 88% of which were estimated to end up in landfill. The figures from the United States in 2013 are even more astonishing, with over 3 million tons of e-waste generated that year.
Even if the waste wasn’t extremely hazardous, the sheer quantity of it has made the availability of suitable dumping sites a serious problem.
3. There is evidence of illegal electronic waste disposal in developing nations
An Interpol investigation in 2014 found that one in three shipping containers leaving the EU were filled with illegal and non-functioning eWaste which was bound for African and Asian countries, marked as “used goods”.
Criminal investigations were subsequently launched against 40 companies, but the sheer volume of eWaste being exported means that much is still slipping under the radar.
Once received, the goods are generally stripped for metals and other parts of value in dangerous and inefficient conditions with no regard for workplace health and safety, harming the health of workers and causing significant environmental damage.
4. Electronics chew up finite resources
Much dumped eWaste contains elements such as gold, silver, copper, steel and aluminium which could be recovered and re-used if correctly processed, but instead sits in landfill, creating the need for more mining and processing to create upgraded e-products.
Correctly reducing and recycling our eWaste could help to lift a decent part of the strain that the manufacture of electronics is placing on our finite natural resources.
5. Constant replacement perpetuates throw away culture
Gone are the days when our grandparents would keep a pedestal fan for twenty years, taking it into the repair shop whenever it wasn’t working.
The built-in obsolescence of most electronics has seen an average life span of two years become the accepted norm for the majority of e-products. Even without major breakdowns, most people these days would rather replace than repair.
This culture of always needing what is better, newer, upgraded and perfect is not only a major contributor to the devastating environmental impacts of e-waste, but also hurts our back pockets.
Keen to start making an impact? Then start making a conscious choice to replace only when necessary and, when it comes to electronic waste disposal, consider acting in an environmentally responsible way. It’s a win for the planet and a win for ourselves.