The environment is being damaged by our waste. That has been an undisputable fact for centuries. Modern day waste however, especially electronic or e-waste from corporations and domestic households, is a bigger problem than any normal waste. Here are just five of the big issues that e- waste is posing our planet:
1. Moore’s law is making things worse!
Those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of Moore’s law; it is the observation that over the history of computing, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. Many scientists see it as a carrot-on-a-stick for the progress of technology or a motivation to continue innovating and achieving, not the basis behind one of the biggest environmental issues of the 21st century.
Moore’s law has been the driving force behind IT growth since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958. The theory, in the real world, renders countless tonnes of equipment obsolete and ready for disposal.
As the world becomes more technically literate, computers are being adopted into more and more homes and almost everybody has a mobile phone, Moore’s law has a bigger impact. With India and China developing at such a massive rate, with their enormous populations a United Nations report has estimated that in India alone the volume of e-waste will increase by 500% in the next eight years. [Source:http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=612&ArticleID=6471&l=en]
2. Third world children are dying clearing up the developed world’s e-waste!
In central Africa children are being put to work salvaging semi-valuable metal components of electronic equipment illegally dumped by firms from the developed world.
To salvage these metals the children burn the plastic on the wires. The toxins produced by fires seriously affect the health and development of the children who are often made to work at these sites from a very young age.
3. We are throwing away fortunes in precious metal in the devices we send to landfill
It was reported that in 2010 that 134 million mobile phones were sent to land fill in the USA. Each mobile phone contains approximately two hundredths of a gram of gold. Extrapolate that figure and you reach the astonishing figure of 3,039 kilograms gold sent to landfill in 2010. [Source:http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/03/14/visualizing-the-growing-e-waste-epidemic/]
In today’s market 3,039 kgs of gold amounts to approximately £84,000,000. When you consider that 15,000 kgs of silver and 1,215,000 kgs of copper were also sent to landfill in those phones along with the gold, the sheer scale of the waste becomes apparent.
4. Even recycling is damaging the environment
In the Guiyu region of South East China, environmental studies have been done on a recycling plant and its surrounding area. It was found that recycling methods being used there were contaminating the surrounding region with toxic chemicals.
Evidence of these chemicals has been found in the breast milk of local women and in hair samples of residents. The health implications of these pollutants are vast, and largely avoidable if the recycling is done properly. In many developing countries the facilities to recycle are few and far between.
5. Actual figures are a fraction of the actual damage
It is widely reported that many big companies in the United States, and no doubt around the world, are not recycling their electronic equipment despite claiming otherwise.
The Government Accountability Office found 43 US firms willing to illegally export and dispose of
broken cathode ray tube monitors – which emit low levels of radiation and contain toxic substances such as cadmium and lead.
However the most shocking issue with the illegal disposal of e-waste is that there is no accurate figure of how much waste is being disposed in this way.
This means that the stunningly large, predicted volumes of e-waste contaminating our planet are realistically far, far larger than originally thought.
Meaning it has now become more important than ever to make sure you dispose or recycle your old electronics safely and through a reputable company.
Louisa Logan works for Premier Farnell, an international distributor of electronic components. A leader in corporate sustainability they encourage they suppliers like Vishay and Microchip to adopt greener practices.
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