In recent years, advances in consumer electronics and personal computers have spurred economic growth, changed information technology and improved people lives in countless ways. However, our growing dependence on electronic products both at home and in the workplace has given rise to a new environmental hazard: electronic waste. Electronic equipment is used by almost everyone and advances in technology result in newer equipment continually becoming available for home use. As our old electronic equipment becomes outdated, it is important that we think carefully about reusing and recycling materials, instead of just throwing equipment in landfills.
While e-waste cannot be prevented, environmental consequences have driven government policies to explore alternative solutions such as the reuse and/or recycling of older electronics.
- According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an estimated 30 to 40 million PCs will be ready for “end-of-life management” each year.
- About 5 million TVs are taken out of service yearly.
- The nation now dumps between 300 million and 400 million electronic items per year, and less than 20% of that e-waste is recycled.
- E-waste represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste.
- Because computer processing power doubles roughly every two years, many old computers are being abandoned. In 2005, Americans discarded 47 million computers, up from 20 million in 1998.
- It’s energy efficient to rebuild old computers, but only about 2% of PCs ever find their way to a second user.
- Fewer than 20% of cell phones are recycled each year, but if we recycled just a million cell phones, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 1,368 cars off the road for a year.
- Flat panel computer monitors and notebooks often contain small amounts of mercury in the bulbs used to light them.
- Cathode ray tubes in older TVs and computers typically contain about 4 lbs of lead and sometimes as much as 7 lbs.
- The European Union banned e-waste from landfills in the 1990’s, and current laws hold manufacturers responsible for e-waste disposal.
- Large amounts of e-waste have been sent to countries such as China, India and Kenya, where lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing e-waste more profitable. Around 80 % of the e-waste in the U.S. is exported to Asia.
- E-waste legislation in the United States is currently stalled at the state level. So far, just 24 states have passed or proposed take-back laws.
- Electronic items that are considered to be hazardous include, but are not limited to:
- Televisions and computer monitors that contain cathode ray tubes
- LCD desktop monitors
- Laptop computers with LCD displays
- LCD televisions
- Plasma televisions
- Portable DVD players with LCD screens
Green Peace International
California Department of Toxic Substances Control
New York Times