What You Need to Know about the Growing E-Waste Problem

As technology advances, our lives are becoming more and more connected. Semiconductors and sensors are being added to more and more products, allowing us to wear monitors, have smart homes, and watch TVs that can stream programming from the internet.

As technology advances, the life span of devices gets shorter. Many products are thrown away once their batteries die and replaced with new devices. Companies intentionally plan the obsolescence of their goods. They do this by updating the design or software and discontinuing support for older models. Now, it is usually cheaper and easier to buy a new product than to repair an old one. Meanwhile, the companies continue to profit from steady sales.

Understanding the E-Waste Process

Electronic devices are made of gold, silver, copper, platinum, and palladium. They also contain lithium, cobalt, and other valuable elements. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says many of these precious materials are in just one metric ton of circuit boards. They can be reclaimed through recycling.

Electronic devices contain harmful heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium, polluting PVC plastic, and hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants, which can all damage human health and the environment.

In 2016, an estimated $64.6 billion of recoverable materials was in global e-waste. However, only 20 percent of this was properly recycled to enable the recovery of valuable materials. The rest was dumped in landfills, where toxic chemicals from the e-waste could leach out and contaminate the water supply.

Urban Mining of E-Waste

More and more people are buying electronic equipment, causing a shortage of the raw materials needed to make these products. To help solve this problem, manufacturers are reclaiming and reusing materials from discarded products and waste—a process called urban mining. A recent study in China found that mining copper, gold, and aluminum from ore costs 13 times more than recovering the metals through the urban mining of e-waste.

E-Waste Recycling

E-waste recycling is the process of recycling electronic waste. This can be done either formally, through certified recycling facilities, or informally, by individuals or businesses. Formal recycling facilities disassemble the electronics, separate and categorize the contents by material, and clean them. Informal recycling may involve simply discarding the electronic waste or selling it to a recycling facility.

After items are shredded, they are sorted using advanced technologies. Companies must follow health and safety rules and use pollution-control technologies to reduce the health and environmental hazards of handling e-waste. Formal recycling is expensive, so many companies and countries illegally export their e-waste to developing countries where recycling is cheaper.

Informal recycling workshops are places where people can get money for recycling old devices. They do this by burning the devices to melt away non-valuable materials, using mercury and acids to recover gold, and dismantling the devices by hand to reclaim any other valuable materials.

The Risks of Informal Recycling

Usually, the people who work with e-waste don’t wear any protective gear and don’t realize how dangerous the materials are. Studies have found that inhaling the toxic chemicals in e-waste or having direct contact with it (even in some formal e-waste recycling settings) can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births, low birth weights, mutations, congenital malformations, abnormal thyroid function, increased lead levels in the blood, decreased lung function, and neurobehavioral problems. In addition, the toxins in e-waste contaminate the air, soil, and groundwater.

Many people in developing countries rely on recycling electronic devices to make a living. This is often done in an informal setting. This industry provides an important source of income for many households, but it also comes with health and environmental risks.

Informal recycling can be dangerous because of its health risks and because data on wiped devices can still be accessed if the recycling process is not done properly. This poses a security risk to individuals and businesses whose devices may contain sensitive information. Criminals are looking for old credit card numbers and other financial information in e-waste. They found this information on hard drives in places like Agbogbloshie, Ghana, an e-waste center.

A Growing Problem Still

E-waste is a growing problem in the world. It is hazardous to human health and the environment and a source of income for many people in developing countries. Wealthy countries continue to ship their e-waste to developing countries, even though it is hazardous. With the rapid advancement of technology, more and more electronic devices are being produced, resulting in more e-waste being generated. If this problem is not addressed, it will have serious environmental and health implications.

Green Atlanta Recycling provides complete sustainable, cost-effective solutions for the recycling and disposal of electronics to businesses and residential customers around Atlanta. If you need electronics recycling in Atlanta, we’ve got you covered! Get in touch with us today!