Forward this blog post to friends who do not recycle their electronic products.
Forward this blog post to friends who do recycle their electronic products.
Forward this blog post to friends who do not recycle their electronic products responsibly.
Earlier this week, November 15, marked America Recycles Day. But for many in the world of electronics, recycling is a way to make green rather than go green. For these villains (and they really are villains, just read on), reducing recycling costs by dumping trash abroad – i.e., not recycling – is protocol. Meanwhile you, the unsuspecting consumer, trying to do the right thing, may be helping the bad guy.
First some quick facts:
- E- waste is the fastest growing kind of waste worldwide
- 5% of the trash worldwide is e- waste
- About 40 million tonnes of e- waste is created every year
- 20% of all e- waste in the United States is exported abroad
- 500- 1000 materials make up a single electronic device; many of which are toxic
- E- waste is a growing humanitarian disaster
Second, a list of the possible diagnoses a doctor may give a person in close contact with e- waste:
- Damage to the bones
- Signs of kidney and lunch cancer
- Neurological damage
- Damage to the reproductive system
- Damage to the endocrine system
- Disruption of hormones
- Behavioral problems
- Stunted development
- High prospect of death
Watch this chilling report by 60 Minutes on an electronics dump in an impoverished town in China, where exploited works use “literally Medieval” methods to dismantle lead-laced electronics at a rate of $8/ day. To make matters worse, guess where most of these abandoned electronics come from? Home sweet home: the U.S.A.
An e-waste ‘residence’ in Delhi. Do not try this at home. Actually, avoid making this your or anyone else’s home altogether. Photo is courtesy of Greenpeace India.
American citizens, including many who may choose to recycle, are contributing to the mess. Their electronic devices end up in the hands of those looking to turn a profit, by sending products to be handled and dismantled abroad where labor costs are inhumanely low and human costs are vicious, even deadly. The Chinese town investigated, a “Chernobyl of electronic waste”, is so polluted by rotting electronics. No one can drink the water without risking horrific side- effects including death. Even the air is poisonous. Upon entering the heart of the community, an electronic graveyard, the 60 Minutes reporter chokes painfully, struggling to breathe.
PBS Frontline filed a similar story from Ghana and, in the process, uncovered some major destinations for America’s e-waste: mostly in the developing world. (Greenpeace also has an eyeopening interactive map here.) According to United Nations Special Rapporteur Okechukwu Ibeanu,
“E- waste is one of the most hazardous waste streams worldwide. Electronics contain over 50 hazardous chemicals or heavy metals that can cause serious health and environmental risks if not disposed in an environmentally safe manner.”
As both stories highlight, even when you recycle, it is important to ensure the vendor is certified: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved companies with an R2 or e-Stewards license. One examples of this is WeRecycle!, an e-Stewards member and YouRenew’s recycler of choice. Be warned: non-certified groups who claim to recycle may be exporting your toxic junk.
The good news is that people are taking notice. NGOs, like the Electronics Take Back Coalition, are raising awareness of this modern global threat. A growing culture of social corporate responsibility is inspiring private industry to get the proper certificates. Greenpeace has developed a scale to rank electronics companies on their policies regarding the use of poisonous chemicals, recycling, and climate change – Microsoft and Nintendo users, prepare yourselves for disappointment. Friends of Nokia and Sony Ericsson – congratulations!
Having shiny new things is exciting. When that shiny new thing is an outdated gadget, make the choice to recycle responsibly. Recycling through YouRenew? That gets you paid to do good. Deterring the formation of deathly e-waste dumps? That’s a priceless bonus.