Recycling EWaste – A Global Problem

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What do you do when your cell phone dies or is outdated and you want a new one? How do you dispose of a computer safely? Recycling electronic waste, eWaste, has become a serious, global problem.

Why is it Dangerous?

Lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and other toxic chemicals are commonly found within modern electronic equipment. When these items end up in landfills or at unsafe recycling programs the toxins either leach into the soil and ground water or poison those working to extract the small bits of precious metals inside the devices.

On top of those toxins, dangerous and toxic acids are used to extract the metals and they are both inhaled and dumped by workers. The result is that local water and soil has been contaminated, people are getting ill and the environment is being damaged on a large scale.

Obsolescence Built In

The thing that motivates any company is profit. As a result, electronic companies build devices that are filled with toxins, break frequently and are impractical to repair. When something breaks we rarely fix it anymore – instead we buy new replacement items. Add to that the fact that new models come out on a regular basis and people want to have cutting edge toys and it is easy to see why we generate 25 million tons of eWaste each year.

Just Where is it Recycled?

A majority of the electronics that are taken in for recycling end up in third world nations. There the valuable bits are removed by unprotected workers and the rest is crushed and usually burned unsafely. The ecological toll is enormous.

Make it Safe, Make it Last, Take it Back

There is a movement to place responsibility back upon the manufacturers of electronic gadgets with three central goals.

First, manufacturers should change their practices to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals used in the design of electronics. Second, the electronics should be designed to last as long as possible, and that includes making them modular so repairs can be made easily. Finally, manufacturers must be ready to take back any broken or no longer usable equipment they made in order to recycle it responsibly.

If companies are required to repair or recycle their equipment no matter when it breaks, they are much more likely to return to manufacturing quality equipment.

Do Your Part

Take your old electronics to responsible recyclers. You can find such companies online, and even if there isn’t one in your state, you can often ship your items instead. Recycling responsibly means that you won’t be contributing to the dumping problem, even if it costs you a nominal fee.

Learn to use rechargeable batteries efficiently. Don’t discharge them fully if you can avoid it. Use a smart charger that depletes them to the right point if you are recharging a partially full battery. Take them out of a device that isn’t in use during storage and remove them from their charger when they are charged – trickle charging shortens battery life.

Another thing you need to do is to encourage your representatives to pass HR 6252 which will make sending eWaste to other countries illegal. Not only will the passage of this bill prevent the US from sending waste abroad, it will bring jobs back to the States, where we have the facilities to dispose of the waste safely.

Finally, take the time to find out which companies offer take back programs, which offer the most reliable equipment and which repair or recycle equipment they get back. Once you have your new electronics, take care of them. There is no need to replace items that work properly. For cell phones, the most commonly replaced electronic item, invest in a good, protective case to prolong use.

eWaste is likely to be a growing problem as more people gain access to electronics of all sorts. The time to put safeguards in to place is now.

Michael Rupkalvis works with the LedBulbsandLights website. The site features a variety of different types of environmentally-friendly LED products, including the E27 LED bulb and other LED lighting options.

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