We’re in the midst of a high-tech trash problem. We have a rising global middle class that is increasingly tech-oriented, and are constantly being pushed to upgrade – to grab the newer (and of course, better). Nothing wrong with that, right? Right. Except… what happens when we have a colossal amount of obsolete, discarded electronics? That’s what we, as a race, need to get sorted out. Soon.
First, let’s take a quick look at why this is has become an actual problem, and not just a “green” talking point. Let’s follow the trail of the beloved Game Boy. Christmas morning, you open it up and proceed to jump around the room in joy. You become the coolest kid in your class for a couple of weeks and even start to become a Mario master. Then, a couple years go by and the next version comes out. The cycle repeats – only when you get settled in with your new, shiny gizmo, you forget about the original Game Boy. Maybe it stays in a box for a year or two, but then it gets thrown in the trash by a discerning mother. This story is one that takes a million different forms, in a million different homes, millions of times. So, what really happened to that Game Boy?
What’s the harm?
Discarded electronic waste can have several fates, each with its own brand of environmental harm. Most discarded e-waste ends up in either a landfill or an incineration machine. So – why is this so bad? The seemingly final aspect of these solutions betray a huge lack of understanding on the part of those who set these system into motion and have made them the standard. Putting electronic waste in a landfill is in a way, just a beginning. Over time, the incredibly high toxic content of electronics such as computers, circuit boards, batteries or CRT screens means that we aren’t solving our problem by dumping it in a landfill – we’re just transferring it to the earth.
The extreme amounts of lead, cadmium, and other highly toxic materials end up seeping into the ground – effectively poisoning the earth. If you think it ends there, you’re wrong. With the exponentially-growing amount of modern e-waste being thrown out, these landfills are causing serious, far-reaching issues for the entire ecosystem. Poisoned ground means a lack of proper vegetation, and can also mean poisoned underground waterways, which can end up in our oceans. The lack of immediately visible consequences can usually lead people to thinking e-waste dumping is a harmless act – while slowly, every aspect of the ecosystem is eventually affected.
What’s up with incineration? Another misconception is that all of these millions and millions of tons of electronic trash can be burnt up, ending the cycle and solving the issue. In reality, the incineration process is essentially another transfer of our problem – this time, to our atmosphere. That mass amount of lead and cadmium released into the air can have absolutely devastating effects on our health, our vegetation, wildlife.. this list goes on.
Help Erase The E-Waste Problem!
Instead of transferring our waste problem, we need to transform it. E-waste contains components that allow for safe recycling – meaning the toxic elements of your favorite gizmos don’t leak into the environment, but are rather put to re-use! Electronics can contain some of the most valuable refined elements in the world, and recycling them so we can prosper rather than poison is a no-brainer.
Programs for recycling e-waste are popping up all over the world, and are proving to be a very effective, safe, future-friendly solution to our e-waste problem. Programs such as RecycleYourElectronics.ca provide information for how you can safely and locally recycle your e-waste, on both a home and business scale. E-waste management systems are cleanly set-up to make recycling a breeze, so there’s no confusion or hassle. Check out RecycleYourElectronics.ca to see what can be recycled – they have a list of about every item you’d expect from your home or office. They also provide various electronic recycling drop-off locations across Canada: www.recycleyourelectronics.ca/drop-off-locations/
The scope of this issue is serious. 20 to 50 millions tons of e-waste are generated each year, and that number is growing exponentially with the proliferation of technology and the rising middle class. This is something we need to address now – not from a place of fear, but from a place of confidence. We have the means and motive to evolve our waste system into a system that can benefit us instead of a system that poisons us – we just have to truly understand that is our only option.