E-waste has been on mind lately, mainly because I’ve been debating the issue of real books vs. digital readers. Since e-waste is a large part of the digital reader vs. book debate, we’ll should look at e-waste before we look at the pros and cons of digital readers vs. real paper-filled books.
What is e-waste?
E-waste is technology waste, comprised of waste created by cell phones, laptops, monitors, iPhones, e-readers and other electronics. Sadly, e-waste is considered to be one of the fastest growing waste issues in the United States and other countries.
What is eCycling?
Just like it sounds, eCycling is the recycling of electronics. As of right now, there are few significantly useful eCycling programs in place. Recycling electronics poses its own set of problems and some of this so called recycling actually involves shipping electronics away from the United States – not recycling them at all.
Some crazy facts about electronics in America:
According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) electronics are a booming business. Various statistics from CEA back this up, for example, they note:
- The consumer electronics industry was expected to exceed revenues of $174.9 billion in the United States last year and that’s a growing number. By then end of this year, CEA estimates electronic sales to be at an all-time high of more than $182 billion.
- During the holiday season 80% of consumers will purchase new electronics.
- American families own approximately 24 electronic products per household.
- The EPA notes that the national recycling rate for electronics is less than 35%, although some organizations estimate that number to be much lower. In fact, officially, the EPA notes that in 2009, just 25% of electronics were collected for recycling, with computers collected at the highest rate (38%).
- Only 8% of all mobile devices were recycled in 2009, which is very shabby. Earth 911 quotes a better figure in 2010 of 10%, but that’s still not great, especially when you consider another Earth 911 point, that, “Each year upgrades or damage make 100 million cell phones obsolete.“
- According to United Nations Environment Programme & United Nations University (pdf), in the European Union (EU) the total weight of electronic appliances in the marketplace, during 2005 alone was estimated to be more than 9.3 million tons.
- Clean Air Council notes that over 7 billion pounds of PVC are thrown away in the U.S. each year. Shockingly, just 18 million pounds of that, (about one quarter of 1%), is recycled. They also note that of all the electronics disposed of from U.S. households in 2005, two-thirds of them still worked.
- In total, according to ewasteguide, the world, altogether tosses 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste into landfills each year. Amount of electronics the world throws away annually.
E-waste is bad for the planet: Our planet cannot sustain the huge amounts of e-waste each year, not in a healthy manner anyhow. E-waste includes plastics (and PVCs), chromium, lead, mercury, and other nasty items that can be dangerous for the earth. Cell phone, for example, seem small, but according to Earth 911, “Their exterior coatings are often made of lead, and their lithium-ion batteries can explode if exposed to high temperatures or direct sunlight, which are common conditions in landfills.” Toxic substances found in electronics can seep into the soil and air.
E-waste is bad for humans: Once electronics are tossed into landfills, the toxic substances found within them can leech out and exposure causes health problems for humans, such as lung cancer, brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to the heart, liver and spleen, severe hormonal disorders and many more issues. According to Earth 911, recent studies out of the Zhejiang University in China shows that pollution from the processing of e-waste can cause DNA damage, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Earth 911 also points out that there are more than 30,000 full-time workers in the U.S. working in the electronic recycling industry – and they’re exposed to the same health risks.
Improper e-waste is not private or safe: Improper recycling of e-waste allows your private information into the public. Once you enter info into a cell phone or hard drive, it’s there for anyone to access. Proper recycling techniques help keep your personal information private, tossing something into the trash does not.
A lot of e-waste recycling is totally unethical: Here in the U.S. we often deal with our problems by shafting them off on someone else. Many recycling programs and human minds in the USA are basically working on an, “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality vs. actual recycling mentality. The Basel Action Network (BAN) is an organization focused on confronting the global environmental injustice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade – meaning, they don’t think it’s okay to pass out toxic trash off to other countries. You should be appalled with the practice of dumping electronics as well – it’s one of the worst solutions to a problem ever. BAN estimates that maybe as much as 80% of U.S e-waste ends up on foreign shores.
Coming up we’ll be looking more into ethical electronic recycling, digital books vs. paper books and much more.