Most of us don’t think about it when we discard our old PC, upgrade our old iPhone, or buy a new TV, but the growing problem of electronic waste is no longer one we can afford to ignore.
Each year millions upon millions of discarded computers, cell phones, televisions and other appliances are discarded and dumped. Much of this waste ends up in landfills or is incinerated, where the toxic metals leech into the soil or the air – contaminating the local environment.
Far in excess of this, however, is the huge amount of e-waste that is shipped off to less developed nations. Here, workers who are not protected by any health or safety laws process the toxic materials cheaply. In these areas, industries founded on recycling valuable material components of the e-waste have sprung up, at the detriment to the local communities and the environment.
The workers who scavenge through the mountains of electronic waste at these dump sites are often children, and tests have shown that people in the surrounding towns and especially workers at the sites have extremely elevated levels of toxic metals and chemicals in their bodies.
In Guiyu, China, a town of only 150 000 and one of the world’s largest e-waste dumps, levels of lead found in some of the children who work at the dump sites were found to be 50 times higher than what is considered to be the “safe” level.
So what can you do about it?
Now you are aware of the consequences of obsessing over the latest tech gadget, you can reduce the harm you are causing the global community and the planet. Instead of regularly upgrading your cell phone, laptop, TV or other gadget, try to extend the life of the products before ditching them for a newer model.
If you absolutely must upgrade, try and give your electronics a second life, either by selling them to somebody else or giving them away to friends or family who might be able to use them. A number of phone buyback companies such as Sold My Device will purchase your old cell phones and tablets and then find them new homes, or you can always donate you old gadgets to charities that have been specifically set up to help reduce e-waste.
For old or broken monitors, TVs, and computers, find out if any local repair shops are interested in recycling their parts or seek out local schools, charities or other people who may be able to find a use for your unwanted electronics.
Next time you’re thinking about a new tech purchase, ask yourself “Do I really need it?” If the answer is “No”, and your old TV or iPhone 5S is still working perfectly, maybe it’ll last you another six months or even a year. In the long run, it won’t just be your wallet thanking you for it.