Electronic Waste

Technology is all around us and will always be a part of our daily life. We have seen the wonders and the benefits of technology on our lives, but as Isaac Newton discovered, for every action there is an opposite or equal reaction. In today’s market newer, cooler technology is being made, and in order to maintain demand company’s use a method known as planned obsolescence to keep customers coming back for more. The way planned obsolescence works is by creating products that rapidly become obsolete and thus require consumers to constantly replace the given product. While this is great for companies, it’s not so great for the health of our environment. The mentality of "out of site out of mind" is very prominent: you throw out your trash and you don’t think twice about where it goes or what happens to it. The disposal of electronics is known as e-waste (electronic waste), and according to the EPA, the truth of the matter is that roughly 13% of e-waste actually gets recycled. This means that the vast majority of electronic waste end up in landfills where the chemicals seep into the soil and ultimately cause health concerns.

In the US, a number of our electronic waste gets shipped to developing countries that lack the ability to properly handle and recycle these materials. For those who are not aware e-waste contains lots of toxic and hazardous materials like mercury and lead. If they are not recycled properly they can lead to major impacts on not only the health of the environment, but it can also impact the health of humans. These toxins seep into waters and into the air, contaminating resources necessary for sustaining life. Furthermore, the direct contact of some chemicals can have severe consequences on the health of anyone handling them. For all these reasons, it is crucial that these electronics are disposed of in a safe manner.

I first learned about e-waste when I was a sophomore in college, and after learning about the health concerns and the lack of protective gear provided I was shocked. This made me think about the volunteer work I had done with Keystone. I worked as a translator for a clinic that helped migrant workers get basic health care. What I found out was that the workers were not aware of the dangers of pesticide and were not aware that protective gear was important when handling this chemical. Many disadvantaged groups of people are not educated on the health hazards present in their work, because they are in desperate need of money. However large corporations should not take advantage of these groups of people as a means to spend less money. We are all humans, and regardless of race or status every life should be valued. In these developing countries there are children working and exposing their bodies to chemicals that will severely impact their health. We should work together to protect the health of everyone as well as our environment. Just because you throw out your electronics and it is no longer in your possession does not mean it should no longer be of your concern. If you have thrown out any electronics it has impacted someone’s health already, maybe it is a 10-year-old boy struggling to get food for his family.

In one of my classes we have to create projects on an issue we are interested in, I chose electronic waste. We need to find ways to recycle our own waste rather than just ship it over seas for other countries to deal with. While there are health threats associated with the recycling of electronic waste there are some benefits. For example, certain electronics are known to have materials that are recyclable such as aluminum, copper, silver, and more. In our market these materials are highly desirable. There are projects around the world whose goal it is to collect electronics and properly dispose of them. One such project has noted that by collecting 3.5 tons of e-waste in just one year they were contributing to reducing carbon emissions by around 3500 kg CO2. Why not create such projects in the United States? By doing so we would be creating jobs, reducing carbon emission, and collecting reusable material from electronics. Ultimately all such factors could be very beneficial and impactful for our own economy. This would be the ultimate large goal, but we can only get there is we can set smaller goals and step by step we will reach our final goal. On a smaller scale (on a community scale) we would have to educate people on the risks associated with the disposal of electronic waste, from there we could work as a community to recycle our electronics rather than just throw them in the trash. As a community we can start to make a difference.