E-waste pollution – Do you recognise these usual suspects?

Author James Mash 11.1.2017. | 11:50

United Nations University Director has said that, “E-waste is an emerging and fast-growing waste stream with complex characteristics.” (Source) Waste management is becoming more challenging due to rapidly changing technology, innovations, and shortening product lifespans. You just need to take a look at the turnover rate of a smartphone, television or tablet to see that millions of items are discarded every 24 months for newer products.

In the USA, the EPA estimates that less than 25% of all e-waste that is recycled. In 2016, approximately 9.4 million tons of e-waste ended up in a landfill and experts believe that the number will continue to grow.

Why is e-waste management an important issue?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a press release citing that 12.6 million deaths were caused every year due to people being exposed to unhealthy environments. E-waste can easily contaminate the environment. Lead, which is one of the common chemical compounds found in television and computer screens can easily contaminate waterways and soil. Evidence of this can be seen in the world’s e-waste capitals like Guiyu in China, where up to 80% of the city’s citizens suffer from lead poisoning and Agbogbloshie in Ghana, where exposure to the chemicals can lead to reproductive problems.

In an ideal world, these consumer electronic products would be recycled and used to develop new materials. However, most of the items are disposed and end up as landfill waste without a second thought. Here are a few of the common culprits that you will probably recognize.

Printer ink cartridges.

Printer cartridges are a serious threat to the environment if they are disposed of in the wrong way. Chemical compounds within the inks and plastics contain carcinogens, which contribute to the development of cancer. With over 50 million used ink cartridges ending up in landfill every year, it is a major health concern that people need to start paying attention to.

One of the big problems is that instead of the cartridges being processed at the correct recycling facility, they typically end up in a landfill due to being thrown away in regular bins or even in the local recycling bin. The used cartridges need to be sent to specialist recyclers who can separate the plastics, metals, and inks so they can be used in other products.

Printer cartridge supplier Cartridges Direct have a recycling partnership with Cartridges for Planet Ark, which allows residents and businesses to send in their used cartridges so they can be recycled ethically. This partnership helps to close the loop and protect the environment.

Mobile phones.

Millions of mobile phones are created for sale every year by global mobile phone manufacturers to get a slice of the multi-billion dollar mobile marketplace. Statista estimates that Apple generated  $211 billion in sales revenue in 2016, while the company enjoyed $231 billion in sales the year before.

The millions of new units sold by Apple also creates a massive waste problem with the disposal of those millions of older mobile phone units. Other mobile phone manufacturers face the same problem.

Apple has taken some responsibility by asking its customers to participate in its recycling program. In the program, customers can trade in their used mobile device in exchange for a gift card, which can be used to purchase another product. This kind of initiative helps to close the loop while retaining the loyalty of existing Apple customers.

Desktop computers.

Desktop computers have contributed enormously to technological developments, however, the solution to deal with them at the end of their life-cycle is still a poor one. Most used computers end up in landfill sites as waste. Not only do they not decompose quickly, but their components contain several chemical elements that can contaminate the environment and affect the health of the local ecosystem.

One of the major concerns with the disposal of desktop computers is the lead that is within their screens. When these aren’t disposed of properly, the lead can contaminate the environment. In the city of Guiyu, computer screens that had been dumped on the side of roads or in landfill sites ended up contaminating the local waterways with lead. The water is now undrinkable and unusable.

Televisions.

The television market is worth millions of dollars and every year, people are keen to purchase the next best product that offers better quality sound, image resolution, and size. Old televisions might get sold, but when they reach the end of their life-cycle they tend to end up in a landfill.

This has been common with technology improvements from Plasma television screens to LEDs to Smart TVs. Most of the older televisions are exported to e-waste cities based in China, India, and Africa where they end up in waste yards or are sold to locals.

There are governments and organizations that are putting in measures to curb the amount of e-waste pollution that is being generated, however, more needs to be done. The United States government has worked with the EPA to enforce e-waste recycling laws in 25 states. Additionally, the Basel convention, which was signed by 172 countries still needs to be ratified. It is promising, however, more needs to be done before it is too late.

People can resolve the e-waste issue by seeking out partnerships with ethical e-waste recyclers that can help to close the environmental loop. Additionally, electronic manufacturers and consumers can work towards developing a more sustainable economy, where a ‘throwaway culture’ exists through the supply and demand of short-term products. Only time will tell. But let’s hope that things improve sooner rather than later.


This guest post was written by Simon,  the Managing Director of CartridgesDirect.com.au, Australia’s premier web store for all your genuine ink and toner cartridges. He’s committed to helping customers save on their printing costs, and helping to minimize the environmental impact of printing on the planet.

Author James Mash 11.1.2017. | 11:50
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