In today’s tech-hungry society, we are on a constant lookout for the latest smartphone or the newest laptop upgrade — a gluttonous mentality of replacing the old with the new, which adds to the rapidly growing amount of e-waste that destroys the ecosystem of our planet.
E-waste is anything from chargers to washing machines to the batteries in an electric toothbrush. Many electronics hold noxious metals like mercury, lithium, lead, and other hazardous materials. Although we are safe from the built-in toxic components while using our electronics, if e-waste items are disassembled and improperly disposed of (like throwing away expired batteries with the regular trash) it will have detrimental effects and pose serious threats on the quality and longevity of life as we know it.
“An estimated 20% of the world’s 50 million tons of e-waste is recycled. The rest is burned or traded by the world’s poorest,” writes Tamir Kalifa, a freelance photojournalist for The New York Times, in his recently published article “The Toxic Trash That Is Poisoning the West Bank.”
Many poor areas of developing countries like Tasmania, Pakistan, and Israel are being turned into toxic graveyards of waste and pollution, where once-treasured electronic devices are dumped and melted in regions without the resources (or knowledge) on how to properly recycle e-waste.
Aside from the obvious problem, the financial livelihood of citizens in these areas is largely (if not solely) dependent on burning and collecting e-waste scraps to survive.
However, as the constant flames rise and e-waste melts, hazardous chemicals and materials paint the sky with black tar, saturating the air with dangerous toxins and infusing the soil and groundwater.
In Kalifa’s article about West Bank’s efforts to fix their e-waste problems, he shares that research shows possible health effects from inhaling toxic smoke with elevated lead levels “as a cause for neurological and behavior issues among children in the villages.”
For those of us in first world countries who always have the latest and greatest in terms of electronics, we need to take a step back and realize what our consumerism is doing to the environment. And if we’re not planning on curbing our spending habits anytime soon, then we need to educate ourselves on proper ways to recycle our e-waste (as the recycling process can vary depending on its size, type, and material makeup).
Here are a few simple ways to start tackling your e-waste…
Add an e-waste bin to your home —
For most people, miscellaneous wires, used batteries, broken chargers, and outdated phones and cameras are either stowed away in a bottom drawer or placed into a “maybe I’ll need it for later” pile. Instead, store them in a designated e-waste bin, which will not only do wonders in organizing your waste but will also protect you from the toxicity of potential leaks.
Check that your city’s sanitation department is e-Stewards certified —
Unfortunately, recycling e-waste can be an expensive and complicated process — one that many recyclers who claim to do good skimp out on for profit. Basel Action Network (BAN)’s e-Stewards certification ensures that certified recycling operations will not drop off their e-waste to third-world countries and will properly remove and dispose of dangerous substances in electronics like mercury and lead.
Staples to the e-rescue —
If you can’t find a local recycling event or municipal drive that ethically recycles e-waste, drop by your local Staples as they are an e-Stewards certified location and will securely recycle your unwanted e-waste at no cost. Browse their site to view their list of items accepted for recycling.