Today’s economy flourishes on communication through mass media, which many have access to via the latest smartphones and high speed laptops. A short 10 years ago, I was stuck spending more time waiting for my box of a desktop computer to load than it took for me to type out my school assignments on it! Ownership of cell phones in the age group of young adults was also far rarer than how quickly people are beginning to use them nowadays…
The astonishing aspect of our shift to ‘electronic lifestyles’ which we should be paying more attention to lies in how quickly we’re transferring to new cell phones, computers and gaming consoles. These electronics, along with television sets, DVD players, storage mediums (CDs, DVDs, etc.), and video cameras, are part of the fastest growing portion of the municipal waste stream across North America, termed as “e-waste”. The environmental issue at hand stems from how rapidly these products become obsolete in the technology-based developed world.
Recent studies of the United States presented by Wellhome, a business dedicated to improving home energy efficiency, reveal why e-waste is increasingly posing a greater rate of consequence on the environment and human health:
- Cell phones are replaced by users every 22 months (on average); desktop computers every 2 years, MP3s and iPods every 2.5 years; DVD players every 4.5 years; and televisions approximately every 10 years
- Average American households spend almost $1500 yearly on electronics
- ONE computer and monitor require 530lbs of fossil fuels, 48lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture!
When extrapolating these statistics to many other developed countries across the Earth, we can recognize how considerably e-waste must be contributing to environmental hazards. The manufacturing of a computer constitutes 81% of energy consumption associated with it, heavily outweighing the energy used in its operation. As electronic products are constantly being pumped out of production lines, so are emissions to the atmosphere. Eventually, the 86% of e-waste that does not end up being recycled is further deposited to the Earth through incineration of electrical parts, large scraps being rejected into wastewater, or leaching of toxic metals that were used in electrical components.
E-waste is abundant in valuable resources, containing elements such as silver, gold, titanium, aluminum, iron, tin and copper to name a few. As with many pollutants, however, the natural products refined to produce electronics for our uses are at some point exported, and deconstructed in third world nations, exposing men, women and children openly to poisonous material. Some people even use the same pans to both cook their food and melt electronic metals for sale. All metals and compounds identified in third-world disposal sites with e-waste are found to have some degree of poison or toxins capable of disrupting endocrine, neurological and cardiovascular functions in humans.
Any conversion of natural resources into useable materials will pose some type of negative feedback towards the Earth, whether it is during manufacture, or actually utilizing a product. It is irrational to completely diminish e-waste because of all the benefits electronic devices provide us. The moral of the story in generating e-waste is for our world to be more conscious of our consumerism and plan ahead. Look into durable, long lasting products that you can anticipate will have a long life span. It also helps to look into repairing that piece of your laptop or television that’s isn’t functioning maximally as opposed to tossing it out as you make the routine drive over to Best Buy or Future Shop to see what’s new on the shelves. Make the effort to gather up those ancient televisions and computer monitors in your basement and head over to a local e-waste recycling location today.