To put the e-waste problem into perspective, there were 1.6-billion cellphones manufactured in 2012. Most of these and other devices not included in the count can now be considered as end-of-life electronics. A significant number of these devices are now found in landfills and these are absolutely affecting the environment, such as in the following ways:
1. Adds to the plastic waste problem
Most electronic devices use plastic for their casings and internal parts. Like any kind of plastic, plastic parts in electronics require thousands of years to break down. These take up space that can then be otherwise used for productive purposes.
Also, whether in land or in water, plastics cause harm to the environment. They release dangerous compounds as they slowly degrade. These contaminate the soil and carry on to waterways and into the sea. They ultimately cause harm to organisms that play key roles in the upkeep of a healthy ecosystem.
2. Spreads toxic materials throughout the ecosystem
Electronics contain a variety of toxic materials in its components. Some examples include barium, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, nickel, and zinc. These will contaminate the soil and nearby water bodies as the e-waste breaks down.
Plants and animals will come in direct or indirect contact of it through the food or water they use for sustenance. If we end up using these plants and animals as food, the harmful chemicals are passed on to us and cause harm to our body. For example, lead can cause chronic illness by damaging red blood cells, the kidneys, and the nervous system.
3. Takes up space in landfills
Land is a limited resource and some of it is filled up for our trash. It is a poor use of a resource crucial for growing food and building houses when recyclable materials like electronic wastes take these up. Furthermore, with a rapidly growing population, the limited land available is becoming more and more valuable.
4. Releases hydrocarbons into the air
In some cases that electronic wastes do not end up in landfills, these are incinerated as a means for disposal. Electronics contain parts that can release hydrocarbons in the air when burned. These hydrocarbons can cause what’s known as a photochemical smog that causes eye and respiratory irritation upon exposure.
The harm that these chemicals can cause is reduced when filters are used in incinerators, but most countries do not have the means to invest in such technology. Furthermore, pollution controls do not filter out all the harmful substances that result from trash incineration.
The harmful effects of electronic waste on our environment can be controlled. And, it does not require us to give up the use of our computers, smartphones, and televisions. E-recycle services take apart electronics, sort the components, and break them down so they can be reused for making new components.
This solution can help control the wastes produced by electronics, and reduce the required input from mining for manufacturing new electronics. Even if not all electronics are recycled, it can still significantly reduce overall waste accumulation and environmental pollution.