Earth Day and E-waste (NG Revisited)

Cell phone; photo by Jeanne Modderman

April 22nd is Earth Day. Mark the day by learning what happens to your e-waste, possibly despite your best efforts. You have generated e-waste if you’ve ever discarded a computer, monitor, cell phone, or television. Chris Carroll reported in the 2008 National Geographic article, High-Tech Trash, that “in the United States it is estimated that more than 70% of discarded computers and monitors, and well over 80% of TVs, eventually end up in landfills…” Maybe you are taking your e-waste to an appropriate recycling center and assuming it will be disposed of properly. It may be, but then again, the recycler may be selling it to the developing world for the conductive components and precious metals. What is released along with the valuable components is chromium, beryllium, and other toxic elements. Read the article to find out what the European Union and the United States are doing to lessen the impact of these toxic recyclables. Photos by Peter Essick show who’s paying the price for working with the hazardous e-waste, and an interactive diagram shows what’s inside your computer and monitor.
How to help? Check out E-cycling Etiquette to find out who has pledged to safely dispose of e-waste, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s page on eCycling to find out where you can take your old electronics for safe disposal in your region. Then take an an e-waste quiz and find out if you are now a knowledgeable e-waste recycler.
Does recycling always make sense? Tom Zeller, Jr. tackles this question in a short companion article, Recycling: The Big Picture. Zeller examines the cycle of manufacturing and where recycling fits in. He also explains the concept of “extended producer responsibility” and how European Union manufacturers shoulder some of the burden of recycling packaging debris.
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