Leave no e-trace
The pace of change in technology today is unrelenting. Electronics are outdated in the blink of an eye, consigned to trash, or e-trash. Today’s consumer is obsessed with new technology; there are over 300 million computers and one billion cell phones produced every year. With old electronics becoming redundant, inefficient, and obsolete, we are quickly replacing them with new ones. But what happens to old electronics or e-waste? Electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of global waste and will continue to be dumped in developing countries least equipped to deal with it properly.
What is e-waste?
E-waste, or electronic waste, refers to all electronic devices, surplus, damaged or obsolete, which have been discarded by their original owners. According to a United Nations estimate, the world produces up to 50 million tons of e-waste per year. This global mountain of waste is expected to continue growing 8% per year, indefinitely. With increased access to information technology, there are also challenges in managing electronic products at their end-of-use.
Quick Facts on e-waste
- The US dumps about 400 million tons of e-waste, of which less that 20% is recycled
- e-Waste constitutes only 2% of the landfill waste, yet it contributes to 70% of the toxic elements in it
- 70-80% of the e-waste collected for recycling is actually dumped into third world countries
- The Ponemon Institute estimates that 70% of data breaches come from offline computers, usually after they have been disposed
Why recycle e-waste?
E-waste is of concern largely due to toxicity of some of the substances if processed improperly. The toxicity results from lead, mercury, cadmium and a number of other substances present in electronics. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, and up to 38 separate chemical elements are incorporated into e-waste items. The unsustainability of discarded electronics and computer technology is another reason for the need to recycle. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals, that can be recovered for future uses, also called "above the ground mining. Last, it is now illegal in most states to dump e-waste into landfills, leaving recycling as the only option.