The Environmental Impact
95 percent of electronic waste is recyclable. However, unregulated recycling can cause more harm to the environment than landfilling. While many companies, such as Apple, have safe and effective recycling programs, the majority of recycling companies export some percentage of their electronic waste to China or poor countries in Africa, where the waste is “recycled,” or destroyed and stripped of its valuable metals. Though this seems like a good thing on the surface, because components are being repurposed, unregulated recycling centers burn or dissolve the plastic components to release the precious metals: a process that releases environmental contaminants into the air, land, and water that would otherwise remain trapped and inert in landfills (Robinson 2009).
The most common type of electronic waste as of 2009 is cathode ray monitors (those big tvs with the curved screens that nobody uses anymore), which make up about 45 percent of the waste stream, but there is evidence that this is changing. We are increasingly seeing LCD products and other more advanced, technologies in the waste stream (Robinson 2009). However, more advanced technologies tend to have new, advanced substances in them that are relatively unstudied. Platinum group metals, for example, are found in iphones and other modern hand-held devices, but little or nothing is known about their potential impact on health and the environment…except that they are getting into everything. Traces of platinum group metals, for example, have been detected in water, soil, and even snails around recycling centers in Africa. There is an exponential relationship between the growth in a country’s wealth and the number of computers per person. Still, it is difficult to determine how the amount of e-waste will change in future years. There is currently a trend of miniaturization in the electronics industry: cell phones, cameras, and laptops are generally getting smaller. Also, computing...
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