The terror in e-waste is real | This is not a distant problem | The solution is as simple as choosing sustainability
It’s no hyperbole to say that e-waste will destroy our planet. With the potential damage technology has done, and will continue to do if left unchecked, the sky and earth will be poisoned by our insatiable need for the next best thing. And, while you might be tempted to think this is something that won’t affect you, the number of other countries unwilling to take our trash is (thankfully) growing, and the Basal Action Network is cracking down on this practice of exporting e-waste. Eventually, perhaps soon, the reckoning of our wasteful lifestyle will be coming.
We carry toxic waste in our pockets
If you take a cross-section of the typical smartphone, you would be shocked at the quantity of harmful chemicals, minerals, and anti-whatever coatings that go into making that device work. Elements such as lead, mercury, lithium, arsenic, and antimony are separated from the skin of your hip or hand by a thin layer of plastic or aluminum. The mix is so dangerous, in fact, that many recycling plants have caught fire from broken smartphones and tablets.
Add to that the water tables and landscapes of where devices can end up, and there’s no overstating the impact our consumption of electronics is having on the earth. Namely that children in Agbogbloshie spend their days in the disgusting, acrid spaces that were once lush fields, chasing an early death by acute poisoning.
It’s a small world after all…
The air in some of the worst e-waste dumps across the planet is thick with carcinogenic particulate from electronics being smelted over open fires. This crude method of extracting the precious minerals from circuit boards and wire bundles is mostly done by children and teens to make a living.
And those airborne toxins created by this archaic practice (e-waste toxins that are actively killing those kids) will be making their way to your neighborhood — if they haven’t already. Just consider how China’s air pollution affects Californians. It’s not just a distant problem for someone else to deal with.
The stain of this global sin is on our hands. It needs to weigh heavy on our hearts — especially as we thumb through smartphone and laptop ads with a whetted appetite – when we stand in line at the tech store, or when we walk toward the garbage can with a fistful of spent batteries.
The future can still be bright
Despite the dark nature of this topic, there is a light ahead. If we take heed of this message; affect real change in our perspective, then we can make a positive change for the next generation. This, if you’ve been reading our blog at all, has everything to do with sustainability. By seeing the ongoing importance our devices have — the intrinsic value these little miracles are — then we can save them from a toxic destination.
Donating devices, reusing them for other tasks, finding a certified partner to help recycle them; these are all ways of changing the narrative from countries burdened with toxicity brought on by our gluttony, to equitable places where technology is a benefit in every sense. As the streams of e-waste slow to those poor countries we’ve been flooding with trash, they will be better able to handle the problems that onslaught of refuse has caused.
Perhaps the change looks like disenfranchised communities gaining access to devices in their second life, or a more sustainable lifecycle for our consumption, or devices being recycled efficiently into materials for future devices. More likely, it will be a mixture of each of these scenarios, as well as other innovative concepts to keep devices from poisoning our world. But the change must happen today.
e-Waste is a killer, there is little doubt about that. And although we’ve tried other methods of reducing the waste, it is still not enough. Every consumer needs to do their part in reducing e-waste. Fight for right to repair in your town, be diligent about handling your old devices with a sustainable plan, and find a partner to help eliminate your e-waste footprint. Only by acting now are we able to fully shift the future from WALL-E’s world to a world truly worth living in.