Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why should we recycle E-waste?

First off, what is e-waste? E-waste is the more informal term for electronic products that are no longer useful to their original consumer. Computers, televisions, DVD players, speakers, and copiers are all common products which become e-waste. 
This photo was retrieved from the Office of Campus Sustainability website.
Why should I recycle e-waste locally? Electronic waste is NOT the same waste as everyday trash, which is why it should not be thrown in a landfill like regular trash.
1. E-waste recycling conserves natural resources.
2. E-waste contains toxic materials which can pollute our water systems.
3. Some e-waste materials are shipped out to developing countries, where unethical practices cause massively negative health effects on local populations.
1. E-waste recycling conserves natural resources.
Electronic waste contains many precious metals. Circuit boards, a common functional piece in computers, calculators, and televisions, contain metals with commercial value.The EPA estimates that “One metric ton of circuit boards contains 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the US.” Should you throw your old IPad, Nook, or camera in a trash can, these precious metals will be stuck in a landfill, never to be useful to society again. E-waste recycling also indirectly conserves resources such as coal and oil, because e-waste recycling saves energy. We would save the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 24,000 US homes in a year.
2. E-waste contains toxic materials which can pollute our water systems.
While E-waste contains many commercially useful metals, it also contains many toxic materials. When you throw your electronic waste into the garbage can, it is likely to break during the process of reaching the landfill. The toxic materials inside such as lead, mercury and arsenic can leak and contaminate the landfill. Due to improper sealing of landfills, these toxic chemicals can seep into the ground as ‘garbage juice’ and contaminate the water supply, causing health problems such as cancer in local communities. Have you ever heard of biomagnification? Biomagnification is the act of a pollutant working its way up a food chain, existing in higher concentrations in top predators. For example, mercury from e-waste hypothetically seeps into the Huron River from the Sauk Hill Trails landfill in Wayne County. River plankton may absorb low levels of mercury. Fish then eat large amounts of plankton and mercury collects in the tissues of the fish. Members of the local community fish in the Huron River, eat the mercury-tainted fish, and potentially suffer from neurological impairment. Arsenic, another toxic component of e-waste can disrupt cell communication and cause cancer or diabetes. Additionally, lead exposure can impair cognitive and verbal activity, and eventually cause paralysis, coma and death.
3. Some e-waste materials are shipped out to developing countries, where unethical practices cause massively negative health effects on local populations.
In China and India, gangs hire locals to burn the heaps of computer monitors, DVD players, and televisions. The burns are meant to melt away the plastic and expose the valuable copper wires. Burning plastic releases some of the most toxic dioxins known on earth. Not only that, but proper workers safety regulations are not being put in place. Children and adults alike work in and live among these toxic air pollutants without any respiratory protection. Workers also suffer from burn marks on their hands and higher prices for water because drinkable water needs to be trucked into the town. Guiyu, a town in China with the largest e-waste site on earth, has the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world, and that pregnancies are six times more likely to end in miscarriage. 
This photo was retrieved from Greenpeace. See the webpage here.
That’s awful. What can I do about this? First, recycle your e-waste! Check to see if the manufacturer of your device will take the product back. Many manufacturers have take-back programs, including Apple, Dell and Toshiba. Sony even takes their products back in exchange for credit. These companies know the product best and therefore can most efficiently dismantle it into reusable parts. If the manufacturer will not accept their product back, drop off any electronics you are done with at any of the following locations:
Each spring the Office of Campus Sustainability partners with Ann Arbor schools to collect e-waste from citizens, small businesses, and non-profits in the local area. This year, a total of 220 tons of e-waste was collected during this three day event, from April 24-26. The equipment donated at this event is properly dismantled and recycled into raw materials at a licensed facility in North America.

This photo was retrieved from the University Record article on this year’s E-waste event. Read the article here.

The Bottom Line: E-waste isn’t really waste at all; it is a useful product that is no longer useful to you. If you don’t recycle your e-waste, precious metals like copper, silver, and gold will be stuck in a landfill, never to be used again, polluting our local water supply.

Works Cited
“What is E-waste?” What is E-Waste? CalRecycle, 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 May 2014.
“High-Tech Trash – Quiz: E-Waste- National Geographic Magazine.” High-Tech Trash – Quiz: E-Waste- National Geographic Magazine. n.d. Web. 12 May 2014.
“Frequent Questions I Ecycling.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 May 2014.
Toothman, Jessika. “How E-waste Works.” 04 June 2008. HowStuffWorks.com http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/everyday-tech/e-waste.htm 12 May 2014.
“Following The Trail of Toxic E-Waste.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 9 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 May 2014.
Elger, Dana. “Faculty and Staff Help Recycle 220 Tons of Electronic Waste.” The University Record. The University Record, 5 May 2014. Web. 12 May 2014.