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E-Waste: What Happens to those Electronics?

Renewable Resources

Building Sustainably

“E-waste does not belong in the landfills!”

By Linn Smith

October 1, 2018—Do you have a computer? Smart phone? Laptop? Half of the world’s population now uses the internet. In developed countries, nearly 90% of the population own some form of technology and many people race to get the latest up-to-date gadget without any thought of end-of-life disposal of that cell phone, laptop, or computer! There is no budget attached to the item purchased that reminds us of the need to recycle it, but what if we had to pay an extra 20% fee on the purchased item for recycling? Would that make you stop and think about its disposal?

In 2016, all countries combined generated 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste. And where did it go? 4% was thrown in the trash, 76% was undocumented and just 20% was properly recycled.

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Proper Recycling of E-Waste

What is proper recycling? Recycling electronics can be difficult because removing the wanted rare earth metals means removing glass, toxic metals, plastic and soldered connectors. Proper recycling is taking your unwanted e-waste to a certified company. A certified company has been audited to make sure the company is following strict regulations in compliance with state regulations.

Recycling electronics costs money, but often finding a certified company can cost less because the recycle center may receive subsidies from the local government. If the company isn’t certified you don’t know where your e-waste may end up. E-waste can create huge environmental hazards if not properly disposed of as it contains lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxins. Many uncertified companies are using unsafe methods to extract the wanted metals.

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E-Waste: Thailand

China use to take e-waste, but now much of it goes to Thailand where environmental groups have submitted a letter to the government demanding that the government ban imports of toxic waste. Many factories in Thailand are using the unsafe method of burning the plastics of the electronics to get to the copper, gold, platinum and rare metals, creating toxic fumes in surrounding residential areas.

Rick Neitzel, Director of Exposure Research at University of Michigan, says, “As most users grow dependent on their cell phones, laptops, computers and tablets, the production of electronic waste continues to grow.” His team studied the toxins entering the bodies of workers in contact with metals from electronics, measuring the amount of lead and other toxins that find their way into the bloodstream. The blood tests show high levels of toxins!

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Urban Mining: Used Metals

Some electronic manufacturers are using recycled metals from out-of-date electronics in manufacturing new phones. DELL will recycle 100 million pounds of e-waste by 2020 and Apple has developed a robot to take apart old Iphones, dissembling 200 Iphones in an hour and sorting the parts for recycling. The goal of Apple is to completely eliminate new rare metals from its manufactured Iphones, using only recycled metals (Urban Mining). An Apple representative states, “The challenge is to extract the metals at a cost that can compete with virgin metals in sufficient quantities.”

In Chili the attitude is to fix things because they figure they can make more money reselling a product than selling recycled parts.

Clayton Miller of http://www.Sustainablebrands.com states,”In the early days of my career I spent a good part of my time explaining to people what e-waste was, that it was hazardous and that it shouldn’t be in the landfills, but today I find that the majority of people want to ensure their discarded electronics are properly recycled.”

What can you do? Find a local, certified center near you to recycle your e-waste!

E-waste: Recycle!

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