Monday, June 9, 2008

How Our High Tech World Churns Out E-Waste

In what is now known as an “Electronic World”, it’s very hard to find people who are able to live without a cell phone, an I-Pod, or a personal computer? In fact, research shows that the world generates about 40 million tons of PCs to satisfy millions of tech-hungry people and to fill the demand in the corporate world. And since the technology changes quite rapidly, new models, designs, and programs quickly emerge in the market. Most of the techie people these days will definitely go for the upgraded versions and the latest models. But what will happen to the old ones? What do we do with tons of old cathode-ray tube (CRT) screens, fax machines, game consoles, mobile phones after using them, or after we don’t like to use them anymore?

More often than not, these “e-wastes” are stuck in a drawer, at the garage, stock rooms. Most are not properly disposed after the garbage trucks gets hold of them. The sad truth is that these junk become non-biodegradable electronic waste.

E-waste represents the biggest and fastest growing manufacturing waste. The black and white TV turned to color; the basic mobile phone was tossed out for the new version with a camera; and the list goes on and on. Who would want last year’s computer when it can’t handle the latest software? As we continually update and invent new products, the “life time” of old technology gets shorter and shorter. Like ship-breaking, e-waste recycling involves the major producers and users, shipping the obsolete products to Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. But instead of being “green” --- we are exporting sacks full of problems to people who have to choose between poverty and poison.

Barely 20 percent of this highly toxic waste is properly disposed of and recycled. Some e-waste is stripped of precious metal and unusable components are dumped in landfills, poisoning the soil and precious water resources. Unregulated e-waste trade affects a growing section of the population. China, one of the largest processors of e-waste, has exported jewelry containing toxic lead from e-waste. But public pressure to recycle e-waste is having a major impact, and e-waste recycling is now one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

On average, a computer is 23% plastic, 32% ferrous metals, 18% non-ferrous metals (lead, cadmium, antimony, beryllium, chromium and mercury), 12% electronic boards (gold, palladium, silver and platinum) and 15% glass. Only about 50% of the computer is recycled, the rest is dumped. The toxicity of the waste is mostly due to the lead, mercury and cadmium – non-recyclable components of a single computer may contain almost 2 kilograms of lead. Much of the plastic used contains flame retardants, which makes it difficult to recycle.

E-waste is an ever-increasing problem. At present, the United States recycles over 32 percent of its waste, and the amount of waste that is recycled has doubled just within the past 15 years according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). San Francisco boasts a citywide recycling rate of 69. Organizations such as Earth 911 provides information on what items are recyclable, and some of them may surprise you, like that old audio equipment or those cans of paint. The Web site's recycling section provides information on how to recycle, why to recycle and what to recycle.

The problem of e-waste isn't limited to PCs. mobile phones, and PDAs. We, as users are also part of this problem. Each one of us has a responsibility to dispose our e-wastes properly. We must all do our part to serve and protect Mother Earth.

Resource: Cecill Artates is an artist and a part-time writer for a women's magazine. Her interest includes writing articles on women's health, women empowerment, and environmental awareness.

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