Solving the E-waste Problem: Are We Doing Enough
By Chris Cantrell of Macs4u
Have you ever thrown out an electronic device because it was no longer working? Or perhaps it was still functioning well, but because there was a newer and better model available, the old one ended up in the trash bin? Chances are, everyone has experienced this. With the rapid development of technology, different electronic devices have come and gone into our hands.
It is helpful to have gadgets and tools because they make life easier by simplifying tasks. Without a doubt, the demand for computers, tablets, cellphones, and the like has increased even more since the pandemic started. Unfortunately, there is a downside to having these on hand. While technology is advancing, the e-waste problem also is rising.
For the past decade, the e-waste problem has been a crisis. Research group Global E-Waste Monitor reported that in 2019, the amount of e-waste they tracked measured up to about 6.9 million metric tons—and that was solely in the United States! As claimed by the United Nations, the sum of e-waste produced by the entire world for that same year was 53.6 million metric tons.
Even more upsetting is that many people are unaware of the existing e-waste problem. In the United States, it was found that the term e-waste did not ring a bell to 60% of the younger generation, yet 63% of them accounted for contributing to the problem.
- The Effects of E-Waste on the Environment and Human Health
- How Younger Generations Can Help Solve the E-waste Problem
- Reduce E-Waste: Sustainability for Old, Functional Gadgets
Electronic or e-waste is any disposed electrical or electronic equipment. Whether these items are broken or working, they become dangerous when discarded improperly because of their chemical components, such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants, or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
They become toxic over time and even more harmful when exposed. This is just one common or obvious danger with e-waste.
The Problems with E-waste
- Poor nations as dumpsites – Many developed countries have been shipping their e-waste to developing countries. Some of these waste items can be turned into refurbished electronics or reused in other ways. However, some discarded items are nonfunctional and add more to the existing trash.
- Contamination – When e-waste stays long enough on the ground, it starts to leach into it. This results in polluting the soil and water with various toxic chemicals.
- Living things in jeopardy – From plants and land animals to people and sea creatures, everyone eventually becomes affected by e-waste. A contaminated environment leads to poisoning due to the chemicals leaked from the disposal of items.
Research has shown that exposure to these hazardous materials increases the chance of abnormal thyroid function, decreased lung function, neurobehavioral disturbances, high lead levels in the blood, and other health problems.
- Data theft – Beyond the environmental risks, there is another danger to tossing out personal electronics. Phishing, SMS scams and identity theft are a few of the most common results of data theft. Deleting or formatting a device is not enough to clear out personal data.
Although the e-waste problem is overpowering, the world can still fight this crisis. With a problem this big and millions of metric tons heavy, it requires maximum and consistent effort.
The Start-up Solutions to E-waste
Several things have been done and are currently being practiced to solve the e-waste problem. Different parts of the world have approved their own laws and regulations to help address it.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was passed in 1976, raising waste management standards in the United States. It supported the idea of protecting human health and the environment from the dangers of waste disposal.
The international treaty Basel Convention was also created in 1989 to help regulate the movement of hazardous waste between nations and prevent developing countries from becoming dumpsites of developed countries.
More milestones in fighting the e-waste problem were recorded when Switzerland implemented the first electronic waste recycling system, followed by the European Union creating the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. The U.S. also came up with its own e-waste rules in doing its part to curb the issue.
The e-waste recycling industry has been doing its part in keeping up with the surge of electronic waste. Reusable e-waste is sent to manufacturers who can recycle them.
Why Are These Not Enough?
Many other countries, businesses, and organizations have come up with solutions to resolve the e-waste crisis. But landfills are continuously piling up, and some countries are still becoming dumpsites. The lack of participation and education is still some of the main reasons why the issue is recurring.
Solving the e-waste problem is not an easy task. The progress of innovation and technology drives more people to buy the newest electronics, eventually adding to the already piling waste. It is also sad to think that informal e-waste recycling is being done, and more people are in harm’s way because of it. It seems inevitable that this will continue for the years to come.
Hope for the E-Waste Crisis
Even if this problem requires more than one solution, humanity is not doomed. There are possible things any ordinary citizen can do to help solve the e-waste problem. Consistency and participation are the keys to this matter. Like other environmental practices known to many, the three R’s and other methods can still be applied to help improve the issue.
- Reduce – Try to limit the purchase of electronic devices, especially when unnecessary. Keeping your gadgets in good shape is a good practice to help with this.
- Reuse – Functional equipment you no longer use does not need to be disposed of. They can be donated or sold to someone else who can use it.
- Recycle – For unrepairable devices, it is essential to discard them properly. Check if there are e-recyclers in your local neighborhood or city.
- Educate – Many people are unaware that e-waste is a real problem, and it would be beneficial to spread awareness. This may be done through informative social media postings, seminars, campaigns, and the like.
E-waste Eradication Needs Everyone’s Efforts
It is a good idea to communicate with local officials about locations that do not have recycling centers. Community drop-off points can also encourage people to dispose of their e-waste properly. The more people get involved in environmentally friendly practices, the easier it will be to solve the e-waste problem and other issues we face today.
About the author
Chris is a long-time gadgets enthusiast, writer, and tech consultant for Macs4u. He is an avid collector of “vintage” gizmos and loves to watch 80s sci-fi movies in his leisure time.