Agbogbloshie, the electronic waste dump of Ghana, is overfilled with stacks of computers, circuit boards, freezers, and metal plates. Officially a filthy business center for scrap dealing, this place is home to many people, living amidst the dirt and waste and stench, to ensure that their families lead a better life.
Every day in the U.S. (and the rest of the world), hundreds and thousands of computers and cell phones end up in landfills. Of course, an item needs to be discarded once it has been used, but there is a technique for the same. While a lot of awareness has been generated about the concept of recycling waste (including plastics, wood, tin cans, glass bottles, etc.), in reality, e-waste has still not been addressed the way it needs to be. Electronic waste makes up the largest part of American landfills, and the volume is piling up alarmingly each year. The paragraphs below will enlist some shocking facts regarding e-waste, and will also educate you about certain techniques you can employ in order to get rid of this waste responsibly.
- You may be disposing a number of old, used stuff on a daily basis - waste papers, plastic and tin cans, old stationary, etc.
- With the general awareness about environmental issues, many people recycle their waste. However, for reasons unknown, not many think about the environment while disposing their old electronic equipment.
- You may not be aware that most electronic components aren't made up of simply plastic and metal; most of them contain aluminum, mercury, lead, and other highly toxic materials.
- These dangerous chemicals don't just leak out of the surrounding garbage; they leak into the ground beneath the trash and filter through the landfill to poison surrounding areas and water sources. In fact, one outdated 15" monitor can contain up to 8 pounds of lead!!
The Myth and The Fact
- If you take your electronic waste to a recycling center, you may assume you're doing the right thing by keeping it out of a landfill. But, the reality is that, most recycling centers don't actually dismantle electronics to get at the useful or toxic metallic substances inside them.
- That type of intricate recycling is time-consuming and risky, so it isn't worth the cost. Therefore, many of recycling facilities actually ship e-waste to other countries, where poor people strip out the inner components and burn them without considering the impact on the environment or possible toxic fumes polluting the air.
- A great deal of exported electronic garbage ends up in China, in a recycling hub in the city of Guiyu, where peasants burn keyboards, laptop adapters, power cords, and other peripheral computer equipment, while other workers use coal fires to heat up circuit boards to recover lead from them.
- As a result of these unpolished recycling activities, the area has the world's highest levels of dioxins in the air. The pollution has caused elevated rates of cancer and miscarriages, as well as a variety of respiratory, skin, and eye ailments.
Responsible Disposal of E-Waste
- If an old electronic item is outdated but still working, you can donate it to a local thrift store.
- In fact, there are many other organizations that might accept donated stuff; you can search online and give away your disposable item for charity.
- Many nonprofits hold charity exhibitions, you can donate your equipment there as well.
- While donating, remember to inform the organization/store/person that they need to send the item for recycling instead of dumping it somewhere. Make sure you educate/remind them about the proper recycling methodology.
- This is one of the most common measures and a profitable one at that.
- You can find out about electronic stores that accept used equipment and sell your equipment there (at a much lower price of course, or may be free of cost).
- You can sell your equipment at electronic and mechanical workshops.
- You can find out about agencies that accept used, second-hand computers and sell/donate the same to schools and colleges.
- This is possibly the one solution that acts as a double-edged sword. While recycling is the best method for e-waste, the fact is that it causes a tremendous harm to the environment.
- More than a couple of decades ago, the Basel Convention treaty was created to regulate how hazardous waste is exported to developing nations. The Basel Action Network (BAN), a recycling watchdog group, has compiled a list of American recyclers that are responsible in disposing of electronic waste.
- Look in your phone book or search online for a retailer or manufacturer that offers recycling for free.
- As mentioned before, most developed nations export their waste to under-developed nations so that they do not have to spend so much and bear the ill-effects of the recycling process. However, on no account do we have the right to litter another nation to keep our own nation clean.
- Yes, it is true that this kind of recycling is expensive and brings about a toxic environment. But, alternatives can be developed that reduce environmental damage, though they do not come in cheap. Therefore, the economy needs to be well-planned, and there should be proper allocation of funds for recycling electronic equipment.
- Environmental groups have been putting the pressure on electronics manufacturers to assume responsibility for what happens to their products after their usefulness is obsolete. And, some companies are now taking notice.
- Dell has offered free recycling for its products since 2004, and is now offering a recycling program for customers who take their used or broken Dell equipment to Staples stores.
- Apple refrains from designing their laptops using less aluminum and glass, so they can be recycled more easily.
- Some television manufacturers, including Sony, are enticing consumers not to dump their old TVs in a landfill by offering free return programs.
Ethically, no country has the right to turn another country into a dumping ground. The underdeveloped nations wherein the e-waste is normally exported has broken and burnt cathode ray tubes (CRTs), plastic casings, insulation, melting circuit boards, etc., which emit toxic fumes and pollute the environment. If the recycling process can be done using a slightly less damaging methodology (despite the cost), it would be a much better solution (not an optimal one of course). And, this technique has to commence at the grass-root level.
No matter how many recycling incentives there are and no matter how many environmental groups publicize healthy ways to get rid of electronic waste, the bottom line is that it is up to each individual consumer to actively look for positive alternatives. It may be easier and faster to just cart that old monolithic monitor to the dump and dump it, but if you do it will end up sitting in a landfill for future generations to have to deal with. Is that the kind of legacy you really want to leave behind?