E-Waste: A Global Issue with Local Solutions

Only 15-20% of global waste generated by electronics – e-waste – is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, incinerators, or shipped to developing countries where poverty-stricken workers remove valuable scrap metals and burn the rest, exposing themselves and the environment to high concentrations of toxic chemicals.

The problem of e-waste is fairly straightforward: we love to have the latest and greatest technologies, dumping is cheap, regulations are loose, and incentives for eco-friendly disposal are low.

The US is the planet’s largest producer of discarded, obsolete, surplus, or broken electrical/electronic devices creating 3 million tons yearly. Europeans dispose of 100 million cell phones every year, and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) estimates that e-waste created in rapidly modernizing countries like India could increase by up to 500% over the next decade.

Here are some direct and tangible benefits to creating better funnels for the disposal and recycling of e-waste, according to a report by CompuCycle:

– For every 10,000 tons of material disposed, 296 jobs are created
– Recycling aluminum saves 90% of the energy it would take to mine it again
– Recycling 1 million cell phones would recover 50 lbs of gold, 550 lbs of silver, 20 lbs of palladium, and 20,000 lbs of copper, which values at almost $2 million

So what can you do to be part of the solution? The answer is as straight-forward as the problem; educate yourself and those around you on the tools and methods offered by your community for the proper disposal and recycling of e-waste. Reducing the amount of waste you and your family, your school, or your place of business create can easily become a part of your everyday routine and directly influence the amount of e-waste in your own backyard.

There are several services you can use to reduce your impact. For starters, find out what responsible recycling programs your local waste collection agency offers which meet the standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. There are also several companies like I Got E-waste and All Green Recycling who provide a nationwide pick-up service for large-scale processing. If you are replacing or upgrading equipment that is still functional you can also choose to donate the old equipment to different outlets in your community for reuse rather than recycle.

If you’d like to get more involved in e-waste management solutions and recycling alternatives on a global level, organizations like Solving the E-waste Problem(StEP) and Basel Action Network(BAN) are great places to start.