The Harmful Effects of E-Waste Around the Globe

As college students, we use electronic devices for just about everything we do. We watch our favorite shows on television every day; we hop on our laptop every few hours to work on assignments, and just about every one of us uses a cell phone. But when items become outdated or damaged and new items are purchased, where do they go?

When we throw these items in the garbage, we rarely think about how we are impacting other people and the environment. In millions of cases, the poorest parts of Africa and South Asia get the brunt of our neglect and unawareness as it pertains to the harms of electronic waste.

Electronic waste, or e-waste, consists of any electronic device, either new or old, that has been thrown away. According to the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, items considered to be e-waste include televisions, desktop computers, laptops, monitors, cell phones, keyboards, computer mice, printers, copiers, chargers, and other items of this nature.

When we think about how much technology has grown in the past decade and how many people have several of these items, we forget that when it is thrown away it all has to go somewhere. The Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives also estimates that over 250,000 metric tons of e-waste illegally enters African countries every year.

You, me, and everyone around us have been individually contributing to this issue and we don’t even know it. When e-waste is transported into countries such as Lagos and cities such as Bengaluru, and Guiyu, these e-waste products are dumped onto beaches and remote areas to be picked apart by teenage workers, sometimes even small children.

Small pieces within the items can be worth money to these areas, but they typically have very harmful health effects. Toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury are found in the products that these children are touching. When they touch these harmful chemicals and later eat without washing their hands, it can have serious adverse health effects. 

When all of the pieces and wires are picked apart for a few valuable pieces, the rest of the waste gets thrown into a pile and incinerated, causing smoke and flames containing deadly chemicals to pollute their environment and cause serious breathing problems and health issues for people residing in these communities.

The saddest part of this issue is that we in the U.S. are one of the worst contributors. For the country that produces and sells so many electronic products on a daily basis and a society that lives for the next popular gadget, only 18 percent of e-waste is properly recycled in our country according to the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives. As a nation, we throw out 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers every single day according to Bryan Walsh of Time Magazine. Numbers like these are difficult to even fathom, especially if you know where everything is going and whom it is affecting.

When asked about what electronic waste is, several University students had an idea of what it is but did not know any of the side effects. A junior, Joseph Raccuglia, said, “I think it’s like old, worn out computers and cell phones and things of that nature.”

A junior communication major, Anna Mikalauskas, said, “I really had no idea how much damage was being done. I know there have been times where my family threw out items like this. Now knowing how serious of an issue it is, we will definitely be more careful in the future.”

Dr. Chris Hirschler, Assistant Professor of Health and Physical Education, believes we can be more conscious about what we throw away. “All one has to do is Google ‘e-waste collection sites in Monmouth County’ and they will find about 60 locations. Recycling is very important and it’s easy, but the first part of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is the most important,” said Hirschler.

So what can you do to help with this issue and do your part? It’s actually very simple. One option is to visit e-stewards.org to find your local recycling center that accepts electronic waste and disposes of it properly. Another useful source of information is state.nj.us/dep/dshw/ewaste to find laws and more details about recycling e-waste.

The best thing you can do is contribute to the cause on our own campus. There will be designated places in the student center and dining hall where students and faculty can bring in old electronics from home that they are not using or plan on throwing away. All items will be properly recycled and help make a small dent in the fight to decrease the illegal transporting of e-waste.

IMAGE TAKEN from doyourpart.com