The Growing Global Problem of E-Waste

Posted by Billyjam, January 30, 2008 09:00am | Post a Comment

If you are like most people, odds are that your old cell phone or old phones are sitting gathering dust in a drawer or box at your home. 

Maybe you believe that you might actually use that outdated but technically still-functional old Nokia one day again. Or maybe you never got around to transferring all the old phone numbers. Or perhaps it holds a certain sentimental value and you just can't seem to part with it.

Almost statistically as likely are the odds that you also still have an old PC or laptop sitting around the house (or garage or storage unit) as well, even though you won't be using that anymore either.  Add up all of these obsolete electronic components in every household and you have a lot of future e-waste -- something that is already a serious problem with chronic potential on global scale.

Old unused cell phones, obsolete computers, cameras, old TVs, and various other assorted outdated or busted electronic units and parts are all part of the mounting global e-waste problem since they eventually will be dumped. And e-waste, like global warming, is a very serious pending problem for the earth and its inhabitants.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that there are approximately 500 million obsolete computers with millions and millions of unwanted cell phones being retired annually. Even by 2005 the United States Geological Survey estimated that there were already half a billion old unused phones in the US. In total the USA owns approximately 3 billion electronic products with approximately 2.2 billion tons becoming e-waste annually. And most of this e-waste gets shipped to poorer countries like China, India, and Nigeria.

The problem with e-waste such as old electronics like computers and cell phones is that they are highly toxic -- made out of metals and plastics and other non-biodegradable components that are complex and hence expensive to separate. Old computers are loaded with hazardous chemicals. Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, cobalt, zinc, chromium are among some of the toxic materials found in your average PC. And when they are dumped improperly (which is usually the case), these chemicals seep into the environment or are dumped into rivers, or more immediately poison the poor workers in third world countries who, to eek out a measly living, are contaminated by the toxins and lack of protection in their working conditions.
So what do we do? How and where do we get rid of our e-waste? For starters, environmentalists suggest, try not to keep buying new electronic items when you really don't need them. And then when you are finished with them, dispose of them immediately and correctly. 

Visit the site, which offers lists of places that recycle used and unwanted old computers, phones, and other electronic gear. Some recycling places do it for free while others might charge a small fee -- and some even pay you. But what is most important is that many places will guarantee that your old computer will be disposed of correctly and not be shipped off to some third world country to be tossed onto some mountain of toxic waste. 

The appropriately named Collective Good environmentally safe method keeps them out of landfills or else forwards the ones that are still functional into a global secondhand market for reuse. And the profits they make, they donate. They also collect old phones and either scrap them or donate them. Meanwhile will pay donors for their old (functional) phones. You can also drop off old phones at certain FedEx, Staples, or Kinkos outlets (call ahead first). If you're lucky enough to live near an Amoeba, all of the Amoeba Music Stores have 'green recycling boxes,' where you can drop off drained batteries, cellphones and other small and defunct items like your old pager that hasn't blown up since 1993.

In the Bay Area one of the many companies that recycles old unwanted computers is Zak Enterprises in Silicon Valley where they are open for drop off every weekday 7AM to 3PM.  Meanwhile, for information on recycling old batteries visit the website of the Rechargable Battery Recycling Corporation to find out about drop off recycling points. 

But to be totally honest, none of this really helps on a large scale, since most of the used computers end up overseas in poorer nations inevitably (right now at least) and then being carelessly dumped into landfill, and open waterways etc -- all of which will come back to haunt the human race.

So really, in my opinion, the only real longterm global solution is for Americans in particular (since we are the biggest producers of e-waste) to either A) give up buying new electronics or B) put pressure on our congressional representatives to in turn put pressure on Apple, HP, and Microsoft and all the computer companies to not use such toxic components in the manufacturing of these electronics. And of course, we can also begin to directly put pressure on these highly profitable computer corporations ourselves. We owe it to those who will follow us on this earth.

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Recylcing (1), Cell Phones (3), E-waste (1), Technology (8), Computers (2)