From the beginning of this decade, E-waste has become an increasingly prevalent issue and has become internationally recognized due to its detrimental effects dispersing into the environment and vital ecosystems. E-Waste, otherwise known as Electronic waste, is when an electronic device or machine is at or approaching the end of its usable life. Electronic waste is an issue that many do not even know about and is highly neglected when it should be tackled immediately due to the damage it is doing to humans, other organisms, and the environment.
Regulations and laws have been enacted to reverse the damage done, but much more reform is needed internationally. E-Waste has been well addressed in the United States and Europe but is a major issue in third world countries, which in turn is creating adverse environments for the people in those regions. E-Waste is seen as a negative factor in society but can help the economy by implementing proper recycling methods, such as the reverse logistics process, and most definitely help preserve and restore the environment.
Electronic devices and new-age technology have greatly improved society through their efficiency and ability to elevate our standards of living and leisure. Technology has revolutionized the world and is advancing faster now than it has in the past two decades. TVs, phones, computers, and various other devices have swept the globe and are stimulating multiple areas of enrichment, for example, international trade, and the economy.
Although despite the booming success technology has generated, every rose has its thorn. As fast as products are being manufactured and sold, they are discarded for new devices just as quickly. Dr. Andrei Brenner, a Biochemistry professor from Carnegie Mellon University, states that more than, “70 million computers sit in our landfills. The average computer screen has five to eight pounds or more of lead representing 40 percent of all the lead in US landfills.” Conventional methods of disposing of electronic waste include melting, incinerating, and simply dumping electronics, leading to toxins being released in the air and “toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater and affecting local resources.” (Brenner et al. 2013)
Developing countries such as Pakistan, India, and Brazil, in particular, have felt the impact of E-Waste, especially in their “abnormally rising cases of jaundice and respiratory problems relating to geographic areas with the most E-Waste concentration.” (Brenner et al. 2013) This is an immediate threat to human life and well-being and needs to be addressed immediately. E-Waste has pressing detrimental effects, but if managed tactfully, can be utilized to jumpstart the economy and create opportunities for new jobs, while actively reducing the mass of electronic devices collected in landfills. E-Waste is an issue that no longer is overlooked and can be significantly reduced by incorporating a reverse logistics process, initiating producer liability laws, and creating or reinstating legislation regarding technology recycling and safe disposal methods to improve environmental conditions.
E-Waste has immense negative effects on the environment and human health. In a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, researchers have found that “electronic waste affects nearly every system in the human body because they contain a plethora of toxic components including Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, and Polybrominated Flame Retardants, Barium and Lithium. Even the plastic casings of electronics products contain Polyvinyl Chloride.” (Stewart et al. 2009) These, in turn, negatively affect humans with, “birth defects, brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. They will also significantly affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body.” (Stewart et al. 2009) This supports how improper electronic disposal results in detrimental effects on human and organism health, and how important it is to apply reform concerning conventional electronic waste disposal methods.
E-Waste is a significant issue becoming ubiquitous all around the world as the age of technology and electronic innovations prevail, leaving obsolete TVs, phones, computers, and other miscellaneous devices to amass in landfills and junkyards. As discussed previously, this in turn excretes chemicals and toxins into the environment and affects the Earth, as well as all living beings that inhabit the vicinity. The United States and the European Union have noticed these adverse effects and as a result, enacted several laws to combat the growing amount of E-waste. In contrast, the rest of the countries across the globe have not paid much heed to this growing concern, and consequently are experiencing an excess of electronics, and their citizens are faced with health issues.
Stewart Engel, a Researcher at UCLA’s Environmental Sciences Department, has found that “poorly regulated informal recycling markets in the Philippines, Pakistan, China, India, and Vietnam handle between 50-80% of this e-waste by shredding and burning the discarded electronic items.” These unethical disposal methods release chemicals and toxins into the air and contribute to the high concentration of air pollution in these countries. In addition, to this, Engel has found that when computers are left in landfills, or incinerated, “persistent, bioaccumulate toxins (PBTs)” are released into the air and can be spread to rivers, leading to harmful metals and chemicals being leaked into water supplies which can in turn damage underwater ecosystems, as well as finding its way to our water and food reserves. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the excessive amount of lead in e-waste, if released into the environment, could cause severe damage to human blood and kidneys, as well as central and peripheral nervous systems.” The harmful effects of E-Waste are blatantly evident, and action must be taken immediately.
If countries put laws into place banning the improper disposal and incineration of electronic devices there would be a remarkable decrease in E-Waste. The United States and the European Union have enacted several laws doing just this, including the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive issued in 2003, which is the restrictive use of certain electronic devices and equipment, and the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Directive (WEEE) issued in 2012, prohibiting the improper dumping and disposal methods of electronics. These two were passed by the European Union and as a result, there has been an enormous reduction of E-Waste spanning from “2006-2017, 50 million tons of electronic waste has been used in producing new materials” (Sterna et al. 2016) In the United States, 25 states have passed laws supporting this movement, including Texas, Minnesota, Oregon, Connecticut North Carolina, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, West Virginia, Michigan, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Colorado, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New York City, and Utah. There has been a 45% decrease in the amount of air pollution and excessively filled landfills in those states, as opposed to the 22 that haven’t passed any laws or regulations.
Although individuals such as Vinton Cerf, a UCLA graduate of Political Science, argue that E-Waste isn’t the most impending threat to humans and the environment since “the United States has a better quality of living and safety standards.” (Cerf et al. 2015) Some also believe that other issues in society need to be acknowledged such as, “wars and political turmoil splitting innocent families apart. E-Waste is a problem, but there are simply more pressing matters in the world that are directly affecting people here and now.” (Cerf et al. 2015) Cerf may be correct regarding the US having a better quality of living, but this again supports how this is due to the laws and regulations executed to protect people and the environment from the harmful chemicals released in landfills and improper disposal methods. Additionally, wars and turmoil are a very prevalent issue in our society today, but as stated previously, the people of many third-world countries are suffering because of E-Waste. According to the executive director of the Basel Action Network, Jim Puckett, water samples from two districts in India revealed that the “Drinking water has also been contaminated… with observable amounts of toxic metals. One sample in each region even contained mercury – 710 times the Indian standard limit in Mandoli, and about 20 times the limit in Loni.” (Puckett et al. 2014) Puckett confirms that the lives of many people in third world countries have their bare necessities compromised and their lives are being threatened simply due to ignorant corporations and companies that refuse to employ safe disposal treatments.
Utilizing a reverse logistics process can cut down the excess of E-Waste in landfills as well as benefit companies and the economy. Reverse logistics is the process of returning a product from the consumer back to the producer, to restore or utilize the product for a new means. To break down this process even further, it simply means to recycle. Reverse logistics are used in common, everyday practices such as refurbishing, returning items to a store, and repackaging and remanufacturing products. There are many benefits to this solution to the E-Waste epidemic such as financial incentives, creation of jobs, and preservation of natural resources. Lenny Koh, the writer for the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre in the UK, states that “Smartphones, tablets, and other popular electronic products contain precious materials, including gold, copper, palladium, silver, platinum, cobalt, and more… Koh and her co-authors estimate potential revenues from recycled e-waste at more than two billion Euros in the year 2014.” (Koh et al. 2012) Additionally, this delivers prospective business opportunities
Through the process of researching through studies and the testimonies of researchers and scientists, a “study” has been executed by conducting a survey and evaluating whether a large group of individuals feel that environmental impacts are occurring due to any kind of factor. I then listed a variety of factors and assessed whether people knew about the issue of E-Waste through their responses. The outcome of this personal study was exactly what was hypothesized before the survey’s development: Many people were unaware and significantly uninformed about the E-Waste crisis and what E-Waste even is in general. This revealed the possibility as to why there is such an extreme accumulation of E-Waste around the world, especially in developing countries, is due to the lack of exposure and education regarding this topic. If the individuals of these countries were aware of all the adversities being created by electronic waste, there would be petitions and laws enacted, since their health and well-being are being compromised simply because it is more convenient to incinerate a computer, for example, than to take the time and effort to recycle it and place it back into the market to make revenue and fuel economic growth. In addition to conducting a survey, interviews were organized with various E-waste recycling centers and companies of business owners and employees. To name a few, Patty Moen, coordinator of Northern Nevada Recycling, and Rachel Lewison, coordinator of Southern Nevada Recycling were interviewed and shared their knowledge of E-Waste. In addition to this, there was also an interview with the proprietor of Dunn and Son Electronic Recycler, Rickey Dunn, as well as Herbert Alderson, the manager of Nevada State Recycle. These individuals were inquired about their perspective and thoughts toward E-Waste and how society can improve its quality of living and health by tackling the situation.
As the world progresses into the age of technological advancements, some downfalls trail behind the development of new electronic devices. E-Waste has become a prime reason behind the ailments and health concerns in developing countries, particularly in Asia, that have high concentrations of E-Waste and disposal plants. Methods that could reduce the mass accumulation of E-Waste include utilizing the reverse logistics process to recycle and put old electronics back into the consumer’s market, enacting producer responsibility laws to hold electronics companies accountable for their products, and lastly enacting laws in states and countries enforcing the prohibition of improper electronics disposal.