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The Ongoing Electronic Waste Crisis

Author: Ella Chen

Editors: Flynn Ma and Junyu Zheng

Artist: Carys Chan 

When was the last time you tossed out an old device after getting a new one, even though it was functioning perfectly fine? It’s easy to be tempted by the new upgrades on the latest phones or computers, but this desire results in people throwing out fully functioning devices without recognizing the environmental consequences of incorrectly disposing of them. Electronic waste, or e-waste, has already proven problematic and will become a major environmental issue if nothing is done to correct it. Not only is electronic waste toxic but there is also a severe loss in the missed opportunity to recycle valuable components that make up these devices. Addressing this recycling issue will help tackle immediate environmental problems and provide easier ways to obtain the resources necessary to produce electronics.

According to a report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 44 million tons of electronic waste were produced globally in 2017, and the annual value of global electronic waste is over 62 billion dollars. This vast amount of electronic waste contributes to the gradual deterioration of the environment and also presents a profound risk to human health. When electronic devices are discarded, the toxic chemicals stored in them contaminate the air. Common pollutants are lead, cadmium, nickel, and mercury, which, although safely handled and used in technology, become dangerous when breathed in. Moreover, pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure to toxic pollutants from electronic waste. E-waste exposure can disrupt thyroid function, cause imbalances in hormones, lead to poor neurodevelopment in children, and affect fetal growth in pregnant women. These conditions are often irreversible and will likely stay with victims for their entire lives. Worse, even if you aren’t near the source, the fumes can still travel far beyond where they originated. The release of pollutants isn’t the only harm done by wasting electronics; many valuable resources such as gold, silver, platinum, and other rare earth metals used to construct these devices are also needlessly wasted.

Many projects have been created throughout the years geared towards solving the electronic waste issue, such as the WHO Initiative on E-waste and Child Health and the UN E-Waste Coalition. Several countries have also created laws to decrease the amount of electronic waste, and while these efforts have taken a step in the right direction, we as a society can all take charge and contribute more to creating sustainable solutions. It’s important to increase awareness of this issue due to the dangers that the pollutants of the wrongful disposal of electronic devices present. Additionally, learning how to discard old devices correctly can help keep important metals and resources in circulation. Many places have local drop-off sites approved for electronic device disposal, including electronics stores like Best Buy and Staples, which are usually convenient drop-off locations. Still, don't let that discourage you from directly bringing back devices to the original retailer. And even if you still don’t have a strong reason or incentive after everything’s been said and done, here’s one thing that might change your mind: some companies or brands allow trading in old devices for discounts or newer models. 

Electronic waste is detrimental to human health and the environment, which is why society must recognize and actively take part in lessening electronic waste. Whether it be going to a local drop-off location the next time you decide to throw out an old device or organizing an electronic disposal drive in your community, any actions, big or small, will all contribute to more sustainable solutions and a happier, healthier planet. 

 

Citations: 

Parvez, Sarker M., et al. “Health Consequences of Exposure to E-Waste: An Updated

Systematic Review.” The Lancet Planetary Health, vol. 5, no. 12, Dec. 2021, pp. e905–20,

UNEP. “UN Report: Time to Seize Opportunity, Tackle Challenge of E-Waste.” UN

World Health Organization. “Electronic Waste (E-Waste).” Www.who.int,

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