E-Waste: What Happens When We Fail To Recycle Electronics

e-waste: assorted electronics in a bucket

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Today, the average person owns three to four electronic devices. But what happens after these devices become obsolete and replaced?

The unfortunate reality is that a majority go into the trash can, generating e-waste. It may be the easiest option at the time, but it can cause more harm than many realize. When disposed of with regular garbage, e-waste is highly dangerous due to the toxic elements released.

Let’s look at what happens when electronic devices are not properly recycled.

1. Impact on the Soil

After you throw out your e-waste, its next destination is often the landfill.

E-waste can take thousands of years to decompose. During that time, it has a damaging and long-lasting effect on the environment. As electronics break down, they release toxic chemicals into the soil, contaminating plants and trees. Some of these chemicals include lead from circuit boards and lithium from batteries. They also have the potential to make their way into human and animal food supplies.

2. Groundwater Damage

Improper disposal of e-waste can lead to toxins — including mercury, lead, and cadmium — flowing into the groundwater.

Groundwater makes its way to streams, ponds, and lakes, which are sources of water for animals, plants, and humans. Contaminated water poses the risk of compromising the food chain and can contribute to numerous health risks including reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, and immune system damage.

3. Air Pollution

When e-waste isn’t recycled, it’s often burned in incinerators. Burning electronics may seem like a good solution to get rid of e-waste but it’s actually harmful.

Electronics are composed of plastics, glass, and metals, which produce dangerous emissions when burnt. Such emissions don’t just pose direct damage to animals and humans, they also result in an increased rate of ozone depletion and greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and climate change.

4. Marine Pollution

If your trash doesn’t find itself in landfills or face the furnace, the ocean is another likely dumping area.

Millions of tons of trash, including e-waste, goes into the ocean every year. Since electronics are non-biodegradable, marine dumping is not better than any other of the options. The result of marine dumping can be deadly to organisms, disturb biodiversity, and harm ecosystems. In some situations, the presence of e-waste and associated toxins can damage ecosystems to the point where recovery is questionable, if not impossible.

Why Should You Recycle Electronics?

Besides taking care of the environment and minimizing health hazards, many reasons exist for electronics recycling. A few of them are:

  • Data security: Proper electronics recycling takes care of the data on your computer or smartphone so it doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
  • Precious metals: It’s possible to melt down and reuse old devices to manufacture other products, thus saving the planet’s resources. If Americans recycled the phones they throw out every year, they could save enough energy to power 24,000 homes.
  • Other users: Your old electronic device is likely to function for another year or two. Help give a second life to your old device.
  • The law: In some states like New York and California, it’s illegal to dispose of electronics with your trash.
  • Save money: Some companies allow you to trade in your old device for a discount on a new one.
  • Simplicity: Today, numerous ways to recycle electronics exist. You don’t need to go out of your way to help save the planet.

Saving the Planet: How to Recycle Electronics

Contributing to the planet’s safety has never been easier. When you need to get rid of an electronic device, you have several options.

1. Take it to the Recycler

Find out which organizations in your community help with recycling old electronics. Take advantage of online sources like Earth911 Recycling Search or Call2Recycle to locate nearby options.

2. Bring Your Electronics to a Tech Company

Some electronics manufacturers and retailers have set up recycling and trade-in programs. You can recycle your old electronics and often receive discounts on a new purchase.

3. Give to Charity

If your device is still in working condition, you can give it to a charity or nonprofit organization in your area. Make sure to get a receipt. As a bonus, you may qualify for a deduction on your next year’s tax return.

Growing Problem

As the number of electronic devices manufactured every year soars, the e-waste problem grows. Even though people tend to hold on to their phones and electronics a little longer than they used to, the turnover of such devices is still huge.

The more e-waste is generated, the larger a toll it takes on the environment and health, locally and around the world.

In the current world of technology, recycling should be an everyday practice. Educate yourself on the necessary recycling procedures for your electronic waste to create a long-lasting change.

About the Author

Wesley Poritz is the founder and owner of Big Sky Recycling. By harnessing the power of cell phones and electronics, Big Sky Recycling is dedicated to reducing e-waste and using profits as a means to a greater end: positive impact for our employees, communities, and the environment. Our recycling program is a simple, secure, and free way to donate cell phones for charity.

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