Spooky, Full of Turkey, Spoiled in Gifts, and a New Year. With the approaching consumer-holidays, we can combat a season of electronic-carnage.
Join me for an extensive post in the production of E-Waste and the mechanisms we can use to combat electronic waste. Note: this post is a hefty one, but I felt it was necessary to elaborate into an issue of such modern relevance and severity!
What is E-Waste??
E-waste accounts for all retired electronics that are destined for resale, recycle and the landfill. Think bigger than cellphones: printers, blenders, and all applicances that require electricity.
Electronics require special facilities for recycle because they contain a host of toxins, precious metals and plastics. Because E-Waste is so hard to recycle, it is a topic often brushed over in the environmental community. So, today I wanted to focus on actions we can take to minimize electronic disposal.
Why you should care? The Stats:
Of course you should care about all resource allocation, but electronics are a particularly resource-demanding and the statistics are disheartening:
- In 2014, the United Nations University reported an unprecedented disposal of 41.8 million tonnes of E-Waste.
- Most electronic waste is not computers and cellphones, the UNU reported that around 60% of e-waste is applicances from the kitchen, bathroom and laundry.
- The United States produces 1/4 of the global electronic waste each year. For prespective, the average laptop weighs 2.3 kg (about 5 lbs). This translates to the US sending the equivalent of 3.7 billion computers to landfill each year.
- According the the EPA, only 12.5% of E-Waste produced in the US is recycled. This means that the turn over rate (number of electronics recycled and resold) is only one in every 10 electronics.
- In developing nations burning is often used to extract precious metals: Harmful emissions of hazardous substances include: lead, mercury, plastic fumes, and reagents used in the recycling process–like cyanide. (UN Environment)
There is no U.S. federal law that requires the recycling of electronic waste or prohibits it from being exported to developing countries.
The United Nations University conducted the first ever comprehensive assesment of E-Waste. For the full-work up see: The Global E-waste Monitor 2014: Quantities, Flows and Resources.
Buy it and Patch it to Last
The first mechanism against E-Waste is maintenence. Recycling still requires the energy and manpower necessary to dismantel the electronics disposed. While recycling/resale is much more viable than disposal, the lowest impact is keeping and improving the electronics we already have.
I am going to call out chargers! How often has your charger cable broken? The mentality to replace technology before it’s dying day needs to change! Buying the necessary components to fix and update has a far lower impact on the environment… Not to mention, far less demanding on your wallet.
I recognize that this issue is far bigger then the consumer and breaches the industrial zone:
the life span of computers has dropped in developed countries from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005
-United Nations, E-Waste Management
But as consumers, we are not without options!
- We can work with local computer technicians to update our computers with the proper processors to avoid recycling the entire computer.
- We can demand better products by sending complaints to the companies we buy electronics from. In the coming months I hope to release a series of letters I write regarding various environmental issues in industry. I speak about this in my post The Devastation that is the Palm Oil Industry.
These same principles applies to the automobile industry. Fix and upgrade the old one! Together let’s embrace the maintenance mentality. If you haven’t check out my post about cycling for automobile statistics to motivate a greener-commute!! To The First Cyclist in My Life: My Mother
ReSale and Donate
Resale and Donation prevent the energy necessary for recycle and massive disposal of electronics into the landfill. If you don’t want to deal with the Ebay (…or craigslist equivalent), many manufacturers and local appliance/electronic stores will pay for your old laundry machines, printers and computers.
Buy New-to-You! If you need a new electronic there are hundreds of refurbished and perfectly functional options — cheaper and ripe with environmental brownie points!
Electronics cannot be recycled as readily as other materials, but that should not stop you from recycling properly!! The materials in electronics are highly useful including massive quantities of heavy metals that can be repurposed in their entirety. The proper recycling of electronics will dramatically decrease the amount of precious metals we extract from the ground via strip mining. Remember:
more than the equivalent of 3.7 billion computers are entering landfill each year.
There are facilities through out the world that specialize in electronics.
Finding the right facility:
Look up a facility that takes and recycles E-Waste near you. For example in Santiago there are 100 new facilities in 23 districts that accept and properly dispose of electronics. You can find these facilities by searching the Ministerio del Medio Ambiente or in the local website for recycling in your region.
BE AWARE: Not all facilities that take E-Waste, recycle E-Waste. Make sure the facility you use is not just dumping your electronics in developing nations!!
You don’t have facilities near by?
I realize that these facilities are not available to everyone. While it can be inconvenient, I recommend saving your electronics, and other recyclables, for the trip to the big city. When I lived in Socorro, New Mexico (the middle of rural NM with no recycling), I would save my recyclables and bring them in the trunk of my car when I made trips to Albuquerque once a month for other chores. Two errands, one car, and a win for the Environment!
Get Creative when you recycle!
Look for innovative programs like ReciclApp. I read this fantastic article on MotherBoard by Tomas Urbina, Chile’s ‘Uber of Recycling’ Is Sparking a Recycling Revolution. In Chile, only about 10% of the 17 million tons of trash is recycled each year. This App and it’s creator, Cristián Lara, are on the frontline combating:
It works like this: individuals, businesses, and institutions download the free app. Once they have cans, boxes or bottles to get rid of, they declare specific numbers in the app and choose a date and time period for pickup. From that data, the company creates and prints out routes for the collectors they work with. There are now an average of 200 collectors working with ReciclApp across Chile, and about 1,000 app users in the country.
– Stats from February 2017, CURSRR
If you have a minute I absolutely recommend the read. It is so inspirational and the impact is truly impressive.
And Finally, Support the Iniciatives!
Support the groups actively working to address E-Waste and broader recycling like ReciclApp. If you are ambitious, become a STEP member!
“Step’s aim is to reduce dangers to humans and the environment which result from inadequate and irresponsible treatment practices. Crucially, Step aims to advance resource efficiency and prevent ongoing e-waste generation”
E-Waste does not need to define our generation. The turn over life of electronics is to short! Together let’s demand a better system for purchasing, repairing and recycling our electronics.
And Lovely, it was a pleasure. Thank you for sticking with me!! I hope I have left you enlightened and ready to tackle the waste in your daily life. See my post Unconcious Acts of Waste: I-Wasted if you haven’t already.
Be conscious about your waste — you will are wiser for it!
Not including the graphic, I used several Public Domain Photos in this post and they do not require attribution, but I want to take a minute and thank the creative license domain that allows the propagation of information and art!
A little side note success! I just successfully asked for no straw with my limonada–sin bobina porfavor… I feel like a winner!… sadly, the waiter still brought me a straw...