Technology has become an integral part of people’s lives – from computers and phones, to TVs, large machines and equipment; these devices are the backbone of our modern society. But, as the consumption of electronics increases, so do the effects of electronic waste (e-waste).
The Growing Problem of the E-Waste Crisis
In 2016, there was a total of 49 million tons of e-waste discarded, the same as 4,500 Eiffel Towers, and by 2021 it is estimated that number will grow to more than 60 million tons. While this amount of e-waste is a problem, the larger concern in this growing crisis are the toxic materials found in e-waste, and the issues they are causing to our environment and our health.
The lifespan of electronics is becoming shorter and shorter as consumers upgrade their devices to the latest versions, with little consideration as to what will happen to those electronics once replaced.
The sad truth is that a majority of the e-waste ends up in landfills. According to the EPA, only an estimated 12.5 percent of e-waste in the United States is recycled. In fact, electronic waste has been cited as the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the country. With the majority of e-waste ending up in landfills, the toxic chemicals in those products end up in the ground, our drinking water, seeds, animals and more, impacting the environment and local communities. E-waste that is sent to landfills and incinerators is burned, releasing harmful toxins into the air we breathe.
The Four Stage of E-Waste
To understand the extent of the e-waste crisis, it’s important to understand the stages that contribute to the growing problem, as well as the solutions within the stages.
There are many issues driving the growing e-waste crisis, starting with supply and manufacturing. It is in this phase where the harm of e-waste begins, before it ever reaches consumers’ hands. Raw materials are mined and then manufactured into components often containing toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous chemicals. These are then assembled to make the products we consume in our everyday lives. These materials are not only harmful for human health, but are also harmful for the environment, especially when they end up in our landfills.
Smart purchasing is extremely important and can ultimately lead to reducing e-waste. This stage is in the hands of the consumer to purchase products that are higher quality and contain less harmful materials and components. When buying electronics, consumers can opt for products that have energy stars or stickers or purchase products certified by the Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool (EPEAT), a global electronics registry that aims to reduce the impacts of e-waste through guiding purchasers to buy sustainable products.
Maintaining electronics may be the most important stage of reducing the impacts of e-waste. Through maintenance, the life expectancy of electronics is extended – keeping them out of landfills and toxic materials out of our ecosystem. Restoring electronics is a much greener solution than further contributing to the global e-waste problem. Electronic Restoration Services (ERS), the nation’s leader in recovery and restoration technology, helps to extend the life of electronics through its restoration and maintenance services, thereby lessening landfill waste. Many consumers abide by the common misconception that after a catastrophe happens, their device becomes junk. However, through restorative services, an ERS expert can assess the device and even end up salvaging it. ERS emphasizes that through knowledge and education of maintenance and restoration services, consumers can make a difference by keeping e-waste out of landfills for as long as possible.
The collection stage comes in once an electronic is beyond repair. This is when consumers can use collection drop-off points, where the device can be broken down and stripped for parts to refurbish, or even be disassembled and salvaged. Some manufacturers actually offer mail-in takebacks and warranty programs with retailers. However, it’s important to be sure to use certified recyclers credited by third parties to ensure there’s no bias and that the manufacturer isn’t re-mining the parts and is instead refurbishing or reselling. Collection saves on mining efforts, and ultimately reduces emissions.
What We Can Do
Technology is a part of our lives and is going to continue to evolve while we work to keep up with the latest tech trends. However, each person and company can still make conscious decisions to protect our environment and our health with responsible electronic habits. One of the surest ways to keep e-waste out of our landfills is to try to resist the urge of buying a new device, unless you really need it. See if the product can be repaired if possible, and if it cannot be restored, try to either resell it or recycle it through certified recyclers. With everyone doing their part, we can keep e-waste out of landfills for as long as possible, ultimately keeping harmful toxins out of the environment and our local communities.