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The electronic industry has been the largest and fastest growing manufacturing industry in the world for more than a decade. On the one hand, advances in technology have allowed economic growth and contributed to a steady improvement in people’s lives. At present most individuals and businesses are dependent to a significant extent on computers and many other modern electronic inventions. On the other hand, the side effect of such a rapid pace of technological progress is the growing number of electronic wastes, particularly in the industrialized nations.
Electronic wastes, or e-wastes, include all home and business electronic appliances such as televisions, monitors, computers, audio and stereo equipment, fax and copy machines, cellular phones, video cameras, etc that are no longer wanted. The fast evolution of technology has continuously led to decreased product prices that have discouraged upgrading or repair and increased “the demand for new products and the disposal of old ones” (Manalac “Electronic Waste: A Threat In The Future”). About 400 million units of unwanted electronics equipment are discarded every year, and this figure is expected to reach three billion units by 2010.
According to various estimates, in the United States alone over 200 tons of electronic wastes are sent to landfills and incinerators every year which already constitutes from 2% to 5% of the US municipal solid waste stream. Moreover, this volume of e-waste is rising by 3% to 5% per year (“Harmful Effects”). Obsolete personal computers and televisions with cathode ray tubes present the most serious problems in the matter. It is estimated that over 500 million computers will be discarded between 1997 and 2007, and this will create more than six billion of plastic and over 1.
5 billion pounds of lead waste. Cellphones pose a problem, too. They are used, on average, for just 18 months before being disposed of and every year around 150 million cellphones are discarded now. As regards rechargeable batteries – their use has increased nearly by 75% since 2000 (Allbritton “Desktop Recycling”). When discarded electronic wastes are improperly recycled or just dumped into landfills, they pose a serious danger to the environment and human health because of harmful materials that they contain such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, flame retardants, etc.
“Page # 2” When those substances are released into the environment they contaminate water, land or air and also affect coronary, respiratory, nervous and skeletal systems in the human body (“Harmful Effects”). Even if the dumping problem does not seem so bad in the United States yet, it is environmentally disastrous in certain third world countries such as China, India or the Philippines to which about 50% to 80% of US e-wastes are sent (“Harmful Effects”).
Due to cheap labor, it is more economical for American recycling companies to ship e-wastes to poor nations instead of processing them under the strict hazardous waste standards which exist in the United States (Allbritton “Desktop Recycling”). Besides, the practice of dumping toxic materials overseas has been “actively encouraged by the US Government”. At present, it is the third world countries who are suffering with environmentally problems. However, shipping American e-waste overseas only postpones the problem of discarded electronics at home (“Electronic Waste”).
All those poor countries lack environmental standards, and people who work at dumping grounds there just break open plastic cases and “burn the PVC cables over an open flame” releasing pollutants into the air. Acid they use to recover small amounts of precious metals is usually dumped into the nearby rivers (Allbritton “Desktop Recycling”). Beside waterways, the highly toxic remains are also piled on farm land or the roadside. It has been found that lead levels in some rivers are 190 times higher than levels that are acceptable by the World Health Organization (“Harmful Effects”).
It is obvious that all countries in today’s fast moving world are interrelated in various ways. So if the practice of dumping e-waste overseas is not prohibited in the near future, those short-term benefits that are currently gained by American Government will be turned into serious global environmental problems. And it might be too late then to solve these problems which will definitely affect our health and living environment. It is clear that electronic waste is with us to stay at least for many decades to come and it is likely to continue growing in volume.
E-waste is already a serious environmental and health problem in some regions of the third world countries where it is dumped in huge quantities. Sooner “Page # 3” or later American recycling companies will loose those overseas dumping grounds and US landfills will be steadily increasing in volume. If there are no important programs in place that can divert this e-waste from landfills, our environmental problems will be getting worse and worse, which, in turn, will affect the health of our citizens.
Serious actions have to be taken by the US and other industrialized countries’ governments in order to prevent the problem of e-waste from developing into an environmental disaster in the future. However, there are also many ways that every person can do to help reduce the impact of electronic waste on our living environment and the Earth itself. One of “the environmentally friendly options” includes trade in or exchange of equipment. Many producers of electronic equipment have special trade-up programs which allow consumers “to trade in their old equipment” when they buy new equipment.
Another way to improve the situation is to donate the equipment which is still in good working order to a local school, church, shelter or other non-profit organizations that are willing to accept used electronics donations (“Recycling Used Computers and End of Life Electronics”). One more option is to try repairing or upgrading the old equipment before sending it to a landfill. In case the old equipment is not in working order, it is possible to have it salvaged for parts which can be then used to “build or repair other systems”.
If the equipment is still in working order, its out-of-date components could be upgraded and therefore its life will be extended. Sometimes it is cheaper to upgrade old equipment than purchase new one. Old electronics equipment can also be resold to companies that “specialize in buying, selling, and trading used equipment” (“Recycling Used Computers and End of Life Electronics”). Finally, it is also possible to have used computers and other electronic devices recycled instead of sending them to landfills.
It is true that most recycling firms usually charge some money to recycle certain types of equipment, but it is well worth making such financial sacrifices if we wish to see our environment healthier (“Recycling Used Computers and End of Life Electronics”). “Page # 4” “Shopping green” is another way to help keep the Earth cleaner. All of us could purchase new computers, cell phones, cameras, and other electronic devices which are designed by certain firms to be environmentally friendly and are manufactured with recycling in mind (Allbritton “Desktop Recycling”). BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1. Allbritton, Christopher. Desktop Recycling.
February 11, 2006
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