We live in a world full of statistics. If it exists, chances are you can find a statistic about it. However, I recently found a couple of statistics that intrigued me. First, according to the U.N., there are 1.5 billion more phones on the planet than there are toilets. And second, on average, worldwide, each person generates more than 15 pounds of electronic waste (e-waste) per year. That is enough e-waste to completely fill up the Empire State Building – 100 times.
So what happens to all this e-waste?
The vast majority of the world’s e-waste ends up in developing countries where it ends up in landfills or is burned – countries like Kenya or India. Burning e-waste releases lead, arsenic and mercury directly into the surrounding environment. According to Ruediger Kuehr, Executive Secretary of Solving the E-Waste Problem (coordinated by the U.N.), “A lot of e-waste is shipped to these countries in order to get rid of it.”
The hidden value of e-waste
In impoverished areas of Nairobi, women collect e-waste from dumpsites or purchase discarded equipment from repair shops for processing. On average, individuals can earn $2 (USD) for processing CRT style TV’s for recycling. If dumped; this type of electronic waste could release up to 6.5 pounds of lead into the environment.
“I can say we have already done something good,” waste collector Joyce Nyawira said, referring to cleaning the environment. Groups like East Africa Compliant Recycling make their money by sending the processed electronic waste to companies in the U.K. and China that have the machinery to isolate the precious metals and rare minerals in high-end electronic waste. A motherboard, for instance, can contain platinum, gold and silver.
Doing it right
In many developing nations, there are no regulations to process e-waste – an ugly side of the e-waste story. However, Kenyan leaders are working on defining and implementing new laws and regulations regarding the handling and processing of technology-related waste. The new regulations define e-waste as anything with a battery or a cord. In June, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed regulations requiring that all e-waste be disposed of at government-licensed facilities. These facilities provide workers with the proper tools and safety equipment to process e-waste effectively and without harm to plant workers.
As the use of technology spreads, the e-waste issue is only going to continue to spread as well. Responsible processing and recycling in developing nations is going to be a big hurdle in the cycle, but with countries like Kenya setting the standard for operating, the task doesn’t seem as daunting.
For more information on recycling your old electronics, refer to the Earth911 Recycling Guides. To find a recycler that will accept your electronics, enter what you want to recycle and your ZIP code in our Recycling Search.