Electronic Waste and the Environment

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Electronic Waste and the Environment

In today’s fast paced society, technology is moving faster than ever due to advancements that are being made in speed, portability, and user accessibility with new computers and other electronic devices being introduced to the market. However, all of this new technology creates a problem because of the discarding of older electronic equipment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States alone produces approximately 300 millions tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, annually (Bennion, n.d.). All of this e-waste has become a massive environmental problem not only for the United States, but for the entire world. This paper will examine different types of e-waste, the harmful effects it can cause to human and animal life, and what certain laws and some electronics manufacturers are doing to combat this enormous problem. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates that Americans own 24 electronic products per household (http://www.epa.gov). E-waste consists of electronic products that no longer work or are no longer useful to consumers. The most common types of e-waste listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website are: -Computers (desktops, monitors, and notebooks)

-Computer mice and keyboards
-Hard copy peripherals (printers, scanners, and fax machines) -Televisions
-Cell phones
The average lifespan of a computer dropped from six years in 1997 to only two years in 2005 (http://www.greenpeace.org). In developed countries, mobile phones have a lifespan of less than two years. It has been estimated that by this year, there will be approximately 716 million new computers in use worldwide. Computers and mobile phones are contributing more to the e-waste problem because they are replaced so often. The EPA conducted an analysis of recycling versus disposal of electronic products in the United States for the year of 2007. The results from the analysis are shown in the chart below:

Generated

(million of units)Disposed

(million of units)Recycled

(million of units)Recycling Rate

(by weight)

Televisions
26.9
20.6
6.3
18%
Computer Products*
205.5
157.3
48.2
18%
Cell Phones
140.3
126.3
14.0
10%
*Computer products include central processing units, monitors, notebooks, keyboards, mice, and hard copy peripherals. These numbers clearly show that the amount of e-waste that was recycled was significantly lower than that of the amount disposed. This means that the large percentages of remaining e-waste were disposed of, more than likely, in landfills. Much of the e-waste from landfills in the United States, as well as in Europe and Japan, is then shipped to smaller third-world countries such as China, India, Ghana, and Nigeria (Norris, 2009). In 2002, a report from the Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition estimated that 80 percent of the world’s e-waste is exported to Asia (Liu, 2006). Ninety percent of that then goes directly to China. Environmentalists are becoming increasingly concerned about the large amounts of e-waste that are being dumped in that country. The majority of it ends up in family recycling workshops. As a result, the laborers at these workshops are exposed to the hazardous materials contained in the electronics when they disassemble them to gather recyclable materials such as metals, glasses and plastics. The materials that cannot be recycled are then burned, which releases toxins into the environment. In addition, Greenpeace International investigators found that laborers sometimes use acid baths to remove lead and other hazardous materials left on their bodies from the electronics. The residues then end up in rivers and other water sources, which contaminates the environment even further. A contributing factor to China’s overwhelming e-waste problem is the country’s own demand for electronics,...
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