E-Waste is extremely toxic and the effects on humans are devastating!
Electronic waste isn’t just waste, it contains some very toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium and brominated flame retardants. When the latter are burned at low temperatures they create additional toxins, such as halogenated dioxins and furans – some of the most toxic substances known to humankind. The toxic materials in electronics can cause cancer, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption, and many other health problems if this waste stream is not properly managed.
Lead is toxic to the kidneys, accumulating in the body and eventually affecting the nervous and reproductive systems. Children’s mental development can be impaired by low-level exposure to lead.
When burned, PVC produces dioxins, some of the most hazardous carcinogens known.
Brominated flame retardants have been linked to fetal damage and thyroid problems.
Barium produces brain swelling after a short exposure. It may cause weakness in muscles as well as heart, liver, and spleen damage.
Hexavalent chromium damages kidneys, the liver, and DNA. Asthmatic bronchitis has been linked to this substance.
Mercury is known to harm developing fetuses and is passed through mothers’ milk to newborns. In adults, it can cause brain and kidney damage.
Beryllium causes acute or chronic beryllium disease, a deadly ailment affecting the lungs.
Cadmium is a carcinogen and long-term exposure leads to kidney and bone damage.
What’s all the toxic stuff in laptops and cell phones?
Right now, virtually all electronics contain toxic materials that can be harmful to people and the planet. A lot of this hazardous stuff lives in the circuit board, including lead (in the solder), mercury (in switches and relays), and brominated flame-retardants. Some electronics, like smart phones and laptops, contain heavy metals like cadmium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, or arsenic, which have been shown to build up in our bodies and the environment.
Also, the wires and cables that run through all this stuff are often coated with PVC, which contains toxic additives called phthalates.
Are the dangers posed by e-Waste dumping limited to the effects on humans?
No! The danger of improper e-Waste disposal hurts the planet and ALL that inhabit it! This includes animals, birds, sea mammals and aquamarine life. Virtually every living organism is impacted by the dangerous chemical pollutants that are released into the atmosphere and underground water when e-Waste is improperly disposed. The polluted soil and air contaminates our vegetables, crops, flowers, grasses, herbs, plants, saplings, shrubs & trees. Everyone and everything exposed to the toxic pollutants in e-Waste are at risk!
What happens to the e-Waste?
Unfortunately, an incredibly small percentage of e-waste is recycled. Even when we take it to a recycling center it’s usually not actually recycled – not in the way most of us think of that term.
A small percentage of e-waste is estimated to be sent to recyclers. In the U.S., as little as 11%-14%. The remainder is most often dumped or burned – either in formal landfills and incinerators, or informally dumped or burned. These inappropriate disposal methods for electronic waste fail to reclaim valuable materials or manage the toxic materials safely. In effect, our soil, water and air are easily contaminated.
What can be done to stop the devastating effects of e-Waste globally?
Becoming aware of the effects of e-Waste is the first step in arresting this problem. Upcycling your used electronics is also a great way to take action and make a difference today. Upcycle by donating your used electronics today.
Is there a difference in e-Waste production between developing and developed countries?
Developing World Will Produce Double the E-Waste of Developed Countries by 2016, Study Predicts ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2010) — Developing countries will be producing at least twice as much electronic waste (e-waste) as developed countries within the next 6-8 years, according to a new study published in ACS’ semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology. It foresees in 2030 developing countries discarding 400 million — 700 million obsolete personal computers per year compared to 200 million — 300 million in developed countries.
e-Waste Facts & Figures
Every year Americans generate almost 2.5 million tons of used electronics!
• E-waste is the fastest growing source of waste in North America
• 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide each year
• 68% of consumers stockpile unwanted devices in homes
• 5% of all municipal solid waste are comprised of obsolete electronic goods
• In the United States alone, the total volumes of municipal waste increased by only 1.2%, whereas e-waste increased by 8.6%
• Only approximately 11% of e-waste is recycled
Trashed computers, TVs and other gadgets make up the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the U.S., according to a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency in June 2011. As much as 80% of electronic waste goes out with the trash, the EPA estimates, while only about 20% is properly recycled.
e-Waste comprises 2% of America’s trash in landfills and 70% of overall toxic waste
–lead in electronics causes damage to the nervous systems, blood and kidneys
–Flat screen computer monitors and notebooks often contain small amounts of mercury in the bulbs used to light them
Large amounts of e-Waste are sent to China, India and Kenya where lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing e-Waste more profitable
–It is reported that 80% of all Asian children have elevated levels of lead in their systems
The EU banned e-Waste from landfills in the 1990s and its laws hold manufacturers responsible for e-Waste disposal
e-Waste legislation in the United States currently stalled – Only 24 states passed or proposed take-back laws
August 2011—Toxic Trade News reports that the BAN estimates that between 50-100 WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment) containers travel EVERY DAY – quite legally – from the U.S. to Hong Kong – Asia’s port of entry
300 million computers and 1 BILLION cell phones are put into production each year. This global mountain of waste is expected to continue growing 8% per year, indefinitely (BCC Research).
Currently, there is only one recycler audit – e-Stewards® Certification – that requires adherence to international law and bans the export of toxic e-waste to developing countries, including exports of broken equipment for reuse.
SOURCES: EPA, BCC Research, BAN, TOXIPEDIA, National Geographic, David W. Woodell, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Basel Conference Addresses Electronic Wastes Challenge, HP Fact Sheet (2005) “Earth Day”,GreenBiz.com-Greener Computing Staff, 2/2010, e-stewards.org/the-e-waste-crisis, •1 Electronics Take Back Coalition. (2009). “Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling.” Retrieved from http://tvtake.3cdn.net/71f50939420282baa8_vtm6iik3s.pdf
Note that all Figures reflect the American society, so South Africa must be making progress to eliminate our E-Waste responsibly