> The E-Waste Problem
According to the EPA, over four billion pounds of e-waste was discarded in the United States in 2005, accounting for between 2% and 4% of the municipal solid waste stream. As much as 87.5% of this was incinerated or dumped in landfills. Only about 12.5% of the total was recycled.
E-waste contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants. These materials are considered bio-accumulative, which means they concentrate in fatty tissues where they can have severe, negative impacts on fetal development and on nursing infants. It has been estimated that consumer electronics may be responsible for up to 40% of the lead found in landfills. (Links to more comprehensive information on e-waste toxins and their effects can be found on our Useful Links page.)
Found as solder on printed circuit boards and in television and computer monitor glass
|Lead can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, and kidneys in humans. Lead has also been shown to have severely negative effects on fetal development and on nursing infants.|
Found in all fluorescent lamps, printed circuit boards, laptops and LCD screen backlights
|Mercury in lakes and rivers converts to methylated mercury in sediments. The toxin can then accumulate in living organisms and travel up the food chain. Mercury can adversely affect a baby's growing brain and nervous system. Adults can suffer organ damage, mental impairment, and a variety of other symptoms.|
Found in chip resistors and semiconductors
|Cadmium and several cadmium-containing compounds are carcinogens that can induce various types of cancer. Cadmium can also accumulate in, and harm, the kidneys.|
|Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs)|
Found in printed circuit boards and some plastics
|Less is known about BFRs than some other contaminants, but research has shown that these toxins may increase the risk of cancer (digestive and lymph systems) or cause endocrine disruption.|
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?
In order to prevent harm to the environment, several states including Washington, Oregon and California have enacted laws that make it illegal to dispose of many types of e-waste in the garbage or landfill. Over 25 states have either enacted e-waste legislation or are considering laws that address this problem.
These laws have raised awareness and increased demand for computer and electronics recycling services around the country. Although it is still a small fraction of the total generated, millions of pounds of e-waste are now recycled each year across the country. Some manufacturers and brand owners are working with recyclers or creating their own take-back programs to manage the disposal of the electronic products they produce and distribute.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
Reduce, reuse, recycle has become a common, environmental slogan. In the case of e-waste it also represents an important, easy-to-remember hierarchy of recycling benefits.
1. Reduce the consumption of products that ultimately become e-waste by maintaining older equipment or purchasing higher quality products with a longer useful life.
2. Reuse products by selling them or donating them to others, especially computer re-use organizations, extending their useful life and keeping them out of the waste stream.
3. Recycle your unwanted electronics with an environmentally responsible recycler who will either refurbish them for reuse, or break them down to commodity level where they can be used again as raw materials.