E-waste Causes and Effects

E-waste is an informal name referring to electronic waste generated from discarded digital devices. Laptops, computer towers, tablets, TVs and cell phones account for over 75 percent of global e-waste. In 2010, worldwide electronic waste amounted to nearly 34 million metric tons. In 2019, that number climbed to over 53 million metric tons.

Unfortunately, less than 18 percent of this e-waste was properly disposed of and recycled. When the effects of e-waste on human health are more widely understood, people will take a more responsible attitude towards recycling old electronic devices.

If It Runs on Electricity, Recycle It!

Technically, any appliance requiring electricity to operate can be described as e-waste but it is more commonly thought of as electronic devices rather than household white goods and appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves, and coffee makers.

Generally, electronic waste refers to computers, televisions, laptops, phones, gaming devices, Kindles, iPods, and similar products. Often people think because something has reached the end of its useful life it has no further purpose but that is far from true. Often the device can be repaired or upgraded and resold or many of the parts can be salvaged and sold for reuse, saving the manufacturing burden of making new items.

Even if the equipment is no longer usable in whole or as parts, it can be stripped down and almost all of the materials can be harvested and reused. This final breakdown is often not done by the recycling center but the parts are shipped downstream to a specialist company that is equipped to handle potentially hazardous products.

Why Is It So Important to Recycle Electronic Devices?

When broken cell phones, tablets or other electronic devices are thrown in the trash, they typically end up at a local landfill. This has an impact on the environment that will potentially last for many thousands of years, causing damage to flora and fauna as well as endangering human life.

Here’s what happens when e-waste sits in landfills:

Effects of E-waste on Environment

Decomposition of e-waste takes hundreds of years. During that time, the device slowly but consistently releases chemicals into the soil that are poisonous to the environment. Toxic chemicals from e-waste eventually spread out of the landfill, contaminating trees, creeks, rivers and water tables, potentially contaminating animal and human food sources. E-waste chemicals like lead, cadmium and mercury are known carcinogens that have been associated with reproductive and developmental damage in both humans and livestock.

Contributes to Air Pollution

Landfills sometimes burn trash in incinerators to reduce garbage accumulation. Burning electronics means burning metals, glass, plastics and other greenhouse gas materials that release toxic emissions into the atmosphere. Not only is smoke from burnt electronic devices harmful to your health, it also contributes to global warming and depletion of the ozone layer. Recycling e-waste significantly reduces pollution and can help stabilize climate change dangers threatening our planet.

Ocean Pollution

Illegal “marine dumping” is responsible for hundreds of millions of tons of e-waste and other garbage contaminating oceans and killing marine life. In areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean where marine dumping is rampant, whole ecosystems have been nearly destroyed and deemed unrecoverable.

What Happens to Old Devices That Are Recycled?

When your electronic devices and appliances are recycled responsibly, all valuable materials from the item, such as gold, silver, copper and palladium are extracted before disposing of the item. Plastic parts found in digital devices can also be collected so that this plastic can be melted down and used to make new products.

Harvesting precious metals like gold and silver means that they can be repurposed for creating jewelry or other items, including dental fillings, microchips, and special coins. Steel, copper, titanium, zinc, aluminum and other hard metals found in electronic devices are separated and collected during the recycling process. They can also be repurposed to make automobiles, tools, cables, wiring home appliances and many other products.

Potomac eCycle provides electronic device recycling for individuals and businesses requiring pickup and disposal of e-waste items. We also offer hard drive destruction to ensure your company’s sensitive information does not get into the wrong hands.

Contact us today for more information about our electronic recycling and disposal services.

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