E-Waste: 21st Century Pollution
According to Greenpeace, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that more than 4.6 million tonnes of e-waste ended up in U.S. landfills in 2000.
Toxic chemicals in electronics products can leach into the land over time or are released into the atmosphere, so communities and the environment get contaminated.
In many European countries, regulations have been introduced to prevent electronic waste from being dumped in landfills due to its content of toxic heavy metals. However, the practice still continues in many countries. In Hong Kong for example, it is estimated that 10-20 percent of discarded computers go to landfills.
E-waste that doesn't get into the landfill, that gets incinerated instead, releases heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury into the air and ashes. Mercury released into the atmosphere can accumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish - the major route of exposure for the general public. If the products contain PVC plastic, highly toxic dioxins and furans are also released. Brominated flame retardants generate brominated dioxins and furans when e-waste is burned.
As if the above isn't bad enough, there is a more alarming concern from the rise of shipping e-waste to developing countries for processing.
In poor developing countries where e-waste is shipped for recycling, workers are often children, women, and the elderly, who work to extract the toxic metals with simple tools like hammers and pliers, wearing no protective gear of any sort, followed by discarding the parts, recycled or not, in open spaces completely exposed to the elements.
Such an approach of recycling e-waste without proper toxic waste containment or disposal systems endangers the lives of people and contaminates the environment.
Although reuse and recycle are positive approaches to protecting the earth from unwanted trash, the shipping of e-waste from developed nations to developing countries needs better regulation; otherwise, the pollution simply moves to another country.Continued on the next page