Electronics are an unavoidable part of our lives. We use them to cook, clean, and entertain ourselves with TV shows. The problem is that, much like everything else, electric appliances generate waste and it is a growing problem.
What Is E-Waste?
E-waste, or electronic waste, is any type of waste that comes from broken appliances or their components. Shattered monitors, batteries that have run out, burned-out light bulbs, outdated and obsolete computers and their components – all of these fall into the category of e-waste. In many parts of the world, e-waste gets dumped in landfills.
Why Is E-Waste a Problem?
There are several reasons why e-waste is becoming a growing global issue. The bigger ones can be divided into a few categories:
- Pollution from waste
- Inadequate waste disposal laws
Companies that make and sell home appliances and electronics try to do so with minimized cost and maximized profit. As a result, after many appliances break down, they don’t have adequate replacement components on the market or, when they do, the price you pay for the component is often less financially sound than buying a new unit.
Consider the following scenario. You bought a computer some time ago. Apart from having to replace your keyboard or mouse a few times, it served you faithfully for many years. Then, you discover that your graphics card is starting to fail. When trying to buy a new one, you discover that the model you are using is now obsolete and can be found for, say, $100, while newer generations with better performances are within the same price range. Alas, your faithful computer is not compatible with these new generations and additional modifications may be required, and you realize that you are better off getting a new computer as it is a much more financially rational decision. Ask yourself what you have done with your old vacuum cleaners, phones, and TVs. This decision also generates e-waste.
Pollution from Waste
Our appliances are made of metal and plastic and the latter is virtually indestructible. Microplastics are a huge problem, but so are the metals commonly found in electronics that are toxic, like lead, cadmium, and mercury. In places where e-waste is not recycled, the metals and plastics end up in landfills, destroying the soil and the water. Some countries export their electronic waste to China and India, where it is incinerated and ends up in our atmosphere.
To get the elements needed to make our common electronics, we need to mine them. Mining silicon, lead, gold, and other elements not only pollutes the soil and rivers near the mining sites but generates its own waste, some of which is radioactive, in large quantities. Mining itself is a dangerous process for the workers and their health, as well as their safety, as many mines are in politically unstable areas.
Inadequate Waste Disposal Laws
Companies that generate waste are rarely invested in solving the issue unless persuaded by the law. Unfortunately, there are only slightly more than 40 countries with e-waste disposal policies, where e-waste is limited and recycled. These countries also keep track of their e-waste, while the rest of the world treats it as common waste and does not bother to track the issue.
What Is the Solution?
There is no quick fix, but we should aim to limit the waste culture, prolong the lives of our appliances and give them away or recycle them when they are no longer of use to us. We could learn how to fix our gadgets and stop getting fascinated with the new and better technology as soon as it comes out.