It can be well-argued that the defining issue in the current stage of human history is environmental sustainability. After all, the scientific data pointing to planet-wide climate change mounts with each passing year, and evidence of its effects is nearly boundless, manifesting in melting glaciers and polar ice caps, increased extreme weather activity (including droughts, hurricanes, and typhoons), as well as a sharp uptick in the size and frequency of naturally occurring wildfires. Needless to say, climate change is already responsible for many deaths and humanitarian disasters, and if not mitigated, will be responsible for a good deal more of both in the short and long-term future.
One of the great struggles in the quest for environmental sustainability is adequately addressing what should be done with all the trash produced by human activities. In the past few decades, great strides have been made in this respect, and more specifically, in responsibly dealing with the waste produced by an excess of unused or obsolete electronics, otherwise known as e-waste. But there is still much that can be improved.
To begin with, perhaps a description of e-waste would be useful for those readers unfamiliar with its properties and effects. E-waste is best described as outdated, obsolete, or unwanted electronic devices and appliances, such as old computers, laptops, tablets, cellular phones, VCRs, DVD players, and the like. It is unlike other types of trash for two major reasons: First, it is much more difficult to dispose of safely, as each piece of e-waste contains components that, when allowed to erode in landfills amongst traditional garbage, leak toxic substances that poison the surrounding land, air, and water sources. Second, e-waste contains materials that can be repurposed in the manufacture of new electronics in order to decrease the global demand for new mines, the result of which is a commensurate decrease in harmful greenhouse gases that are usually created in establishing such mines.
While these two general facts are widely known—at least by professionals operating within the waste disposal industry—there are some other more specific and frankly, staggering truths about electronic waste that deserve some additional attention. In that vein, the following is a list of some astonishing facts about e-waste, as presented by Computer Recycling of Union, NJ, a HIPAA-compliant e-waste recycling company with well over 20 years of experience in the industry.
- As of 2019, the countries of the world discarded 53.6 million tons of electronic appliances and devices. This accounts for a 21% increase from only five years before, in 2014, according to data gathered by United Nations University. At that rate, this will lead to a doubling of global e-waste in only 16 years.
- In that same report, the United Nations estimates that a mere 17.4% of e-waste is properly recycled in a manner that maximally decreases its negative impact on the environment.
- By conservative estimates, between 35-40% of all heavy metals in American landfills come from discarded electronics.
- Asia accounts for about 24.9 million tons of e-waste annually, which is twice the volume of North and South America, which combined produce approximately 13.1 million tons each year. That being stated, Asia recycles more of its e-waste, at 11.7% in 2019, than the Americas do, at 9.4%, also in 2019. Europe leads the world in this metric, responsibly recycling 42.5% of its e-waste annually in that same year.
- Obsolete television sets, including those that feature the old, 20th century style of cathode ray tube monitors, contain approximately four to eight pounds of lead, which as a neurotoxin can be harmful to all forms of life if ingested. Improper disposal of these appliances inevitably causes the lead they contain to leach into the ground, sometimes into the drinking water of nearby communities.
- For every one million cellular and smart phones that are properly recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium—all rare metals that serve many important industrial functions, and are difficult to extract from the earth without environmental damage—can be recovered, as documented by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- The estimated total value of the raw materials contained in the e-waste produced by the United States in 2019 was $7.49 billion.
- According to publicly available statistics, global e-waste volumes could potentially increase by as much as 39% to 74.7 million tons a year by 2030.
Taken either individually or on the whole, these facts make it abundantly clear that e-waste poses a genuine threat to environmental sustainability. By disposing of e-waste responsibly with fully licensed companies such as Computer Recycling, as opposed to simply dumping old electronics in an ordinary landfill, private individuals, companies, and large organizations can do their part to reduce toxic pollution and ensure the long-term viability of both local ecosystems and the larger biosphere.
Computer Recycling of Union, NJ is one of the nation’s premier electronics recycling companies. They are one of only a few companies that can legally collect, disassemble, and safely recycle electronics and electronic components. Some of the services that Computer Recycling offers includes laptop recycling, TV recycling, data destruction (through either a US Department of Defense standard wipe or shredding of all hard drives/memory storage devices), and electronics collection through various methods. More information about the company can be found here.